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Protect Democracy asks DOJ and DHS to correct report on foreign terrorists

On January 16, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a report entitled “Executive Order 13780: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, Initial Section 11 Report” (the “Report”).  From the Trump Administration’s perspective, the Report was well-timed, as it was issued during a still-ongoing debate about federal immigration policy.  The Trump Administration has repeatedly invoked and relied on the Report — and its central conclusion that 73 percent of those convicted of terrorism-related offenses are foreign-born — as justifying the more restrictive immigration policy that it favors.  Indeed, President Trump himself has tweeted about the Report, imprecisely characterizing its findings as showing that “nearly 3 in 4 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges are foreign born.”  In doing so, he doubled down on a statement that he made during a February 28, 2017 address to Congress: “According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

Unfortunately, as many others have pointed out, the Report is misleading, biased, methodologically unsound, and often just flat out wrong.  Worse, it is being used as part of a misinformation campaign targeted at the American public to justify and support the Administration’s preferred immigration policies.

Fortunately, there is a mechanism for holding the government accountable when it disseminates false information, although it is little known and even less used: the Data Quality Act (“DQA”).  That law requires agencies to adopt policies and procedures “for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies.”  See Pub L. No. 106-554 § 515(a).  Pursuant to the DQA, all federal agencies — including DOJ and DHS — have adopted guidelines that require them to adhere to certain standards of “quality,” “objectivity,” “utility,” and “integrity” when providing information to the public.

The Report falls woefully short of the agencies’ obligations under the DQA and their own guidelines.  That is why on February 8, 2018, Protect Democracy — along with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law; Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Editor in Chief of Lawfare; Nora Ellingsen, a former Staff Operations Specialist in the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI; and Michael F. Crowley, a Senior Fellow at the Brennan Center and a former Senior Policy Analyst with the Office of Management and Budget — filed a petition asking DOJ and DHS to retract or correct the Report.  (A similar petition was filed on January 29 by Democracy Forward and Muslim Advocates.)  The petition is below.