Trump Retweets Flawed Fox Segment Stoking Fear About Religious Visas
President Donald Trump retweeted a segment from Fox News’ Fox & Friends that claimed “jihadis [are] using religious visa to enter US” just days after two federal judges temporarily halted his second attempt at a travel ban targeting a list of majority-Muslim countries. However, the Foxnews.com article the Fox & Friends segment was based on named no incidents of terrorism in the U.S. linked to Muslims here on the R-1 visa for religious workers, and a Media Matters search also found no such reports of terrorism linked to R-1 visas within the last ten years.
Trump Retweets Fox & Friends Claim That “Jihadis [Are] Using Religious Visa To Enter US”
Fox & Friends: There Is A “Serious Threat For Homegrown Terror” From “Cold-Blooded Terrorists” Holding R-1 Visas. In a Fox & Friends report on the supposedly “serious threat for homegrown terror,” correspondent Abby Huntsman claimed that “cold-blooded terrorists” have been using temporary, nonimmigrant religious visas (R-1), “to slip right through the cracks,” adding “security experts, they say we have been letting jihadis right through our borders.” From the March 15 edition of Fox & Friends:
ABBY HUNTSMAN: I’ve got some news now, starting with a Fox News alert and a serious threat for homegrown terror. Security experts, they say we have been letting jihadis right through our borders, and for decades. The R-1 visa program, designed to admit non-immigrant clerics and religious workers for up to five years. But turns out, cold-blooded terrorists have been using it to slip right through the cracks. The Obama administration issued more than 23,000 visas during the former president’s second term. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/15/17]
Fox’s David Bossie Uses Fox Report To Call For “Extreme Vetting.” Later in the program, Fox contributor and former deputy campaign manager for President Donald Trump David Bossie used Fox’s earlier reporting to call for so-called “extreme vetting.” After Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed, “these jihadis evidently, according to Fox News and our sources, are using religious visas to enter into the U.S.” and suggested that was partially “behind the reason for the redone travel ban,” Bossie argued that “this is a perfect example of why we need extreme vetting from all countries across the world.” From the March 15 edition of Fox & Friends:
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Here’s another Fox News Alert, as it revolves around today's travel ban, and that is that these jihadis evidently, according to Fox News and our sources, are using religious visas to enter into the U.S. Is this behind the reason for the redone travel ban?
DAVID BOSSIE: Well, I think this needs to be part of what they look at, the extreme vetting, as President Trump has talked about. This is a perfect example of why we need extreme vetting from all countries across the world. You know, we know back in, I think, 2004, Hamas used this exact visa program to try to infiltrate America with about 200 different bad guys. And, I think that this has been called out by many leaders, by many religious leaders across the country and members of the military for years, and I think that the president is looking at these types of programs exactly as the reason why he says we need extreme vetting. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/15/17]
Trump Retweeted Fox & Friends Segment Claiming “Jihadis Using Religious Visa To Enter US, Experts Warn.”
Retweet Came After Federal Judges Halted Trump’s Muslim Ban
Federal Judges In Hawaii And Maryland Freeze Trump’s Revised Muslim Ban. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson issued a “sweeping freeze” of Trump’s revised Muslim ban hours before it “would have temporarily barred the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries,” according to The Washington Post. In his decision, Watson, who serves as a federal judge for the U.S. District Court of Hawaii, “pointed to Trump’s own comments and those of his close advisers as evidence that his order was meant to discriminate against Muslims.” The next day, U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court of Maryland also “suspended a portion of the ban that prevented visas being issued to nationals of the six countries.” [The Washington Post, 3/16/17; USA Today, 3/16/17]
The Fox & Friends Report Was Based On A FoxNews.Com Article Which Didn’t Identify Any Terrorism Associated With Religious Visas
FoxNews.com Reported That The Visa Program “May Be Letting Jihadists Into The Country,” But Named No Associated Incidents Of Terrorism. An online Fox News report claimed that “red flags about the program have been raised for years,” but did not identify any terror incidents that had occurred as a result of the program. The article did note that in 2004, seven people were indicted for providing support to Hamas, which included “submitting false R visa applications on behalf of more than 200 immigrants from the Middle East” and that in 2007 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials found “the R visa program's fraud rate ‘excessively high.’” But the article also reported that “DHS officials came under fire by some human rights groups and activists for allegedly targeting imams on the visa under the guise of combating terrorism” and that, “according to an immigration lawyer, “the fraud concerns that were raised resulted in heavy new regulations and procedures in 2011.” From the article:
A U.S. visa program designed to temporarily admit religious workers from other countries may be letting jihadists into the country, security experts and religious leaders warn.
Red flags about the program have been raised for years. In 2004, seven top officials of the Holy Land Foundation – then the largest Muslim charity in the country – were indicted for providing material and upward of $12 million in financial support to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. The indictment stated that several of the religious leaders established the now-defunct charity by submitting false R visa applications on behalf of more than 200 immigrants from the Middle East.
Three years earlier, Muhammad Khalil, who ran a mosque in the basement of a Brooklyn store, was convicted in New York for filing over 200 falsified applications for fake jobs at his house of worship.
In 2007, after a lengthy investigation, Department of Homeland Security officials called the R visa program's fraud rate “excessively high.” The DHS investigation concluded that more than 30 percent of applicants had submitted phony information or were unqualified for their positions. In some cases, their employers or places of worship did not exist, a problem that has since been somewhat rectified by official inspections and site visits.
The program has also been criticized for other reasons. DHS officials came under fire by some human rights groups and activists for allegedly targeting imams on the visa under the guise of combating terrorism.
One of those critics is William Stock, a partner at the Philadelphia-based Klasko Immigration law firm, who said that the fraud concerns that were raised resulted in heavy new regulations and procedures in 2011.
William Cocks, a spokesperson for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the vetting process for the program has become particularly thorough.
“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications. Every prospective traveler to the U.S. undergoes extensive security screening. Applicants are continuously screened, both at the time of their visa application and afterwards, to ensure they remain eligible,” he said. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes.” [FoxNews.com, 3/14/17]
Media Matters Found No News Reports Of Terrorist Acts In The U.S. Committed By Any Muslims In The U.S. On Religious Visas. Despite Fox News claims that the visa program for religious workers “may be letting jihadists into the country” and that “red flags about the program have been raised for years,” a Media Matters search of Nexis found no news reports about terrorism committed by Muslims in the U.S. on a religious visa in the last 10 years. Media Matters searched U.S. newspapers and wires from January 1, 2007 -- well before additional restrictions were added to the program in 2011, according to the Fox article -- through March 17, 2017.**
Experts Say An Immigration Ban Targeting Specific Countries Wouldn’t Impact Terrorism, But Would Do Harm To The Economy, Foreign Policy, U.S. Travelers
Unpublished DHS Reports Find “Extreme Vetting” Would Not Identify Violent Extremists. Two leaked DHS documents revealed that the assessment of intelligence officials is that “extreme vetting” of immigrants from specific countries would not be able to screen out potential terrorists. The first report, leaked on February 24, found officials within DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis had assessed “that country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” The second report, leaked on March 2, found that “most foreign-born, US-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns.” [The Wall Street Journal, 2/24/17; The Washington Post, 3/3/17]
Third Way: Trump’s Ban On Visitors “From Terrorism-Affected Countries” Would Cost The U.S. Billions In GDP And Thousands Of Jobs. Third Way’s David Brown and Jordan Baum wrote that a “ban on visitors … from terrorism-affected countries … would decrease U.S. GDP by $30.5 billion and cost the domestic economy 182,000 jobs in year one. GDP and job losses would then increase significantly each year the ban remains.” Brown and Baum also wrote that the “greatest harm” of such a ban “is to the American ideal,” noting as well as that such a ban “would undermine U.S. foreign policy goals.” [Third Way, 8/24/16]
Bipartisan Policy Center: Country-Specific Immigration Bans “Could Cause Reciprocal Bans Against US Citizens And Commerce.” A Bipartisan Policy Center report explained that “banning entry of Muslims or others from regions of the world that have experienced terrorism (including Europe) could cause reciprocal bans against US citizens and commerce, further eroding relationships and alliances that are needed to work against terrorist and criminal organizations.” The report also noted that “such actions feed into the rhetoric of extremists that the United States is at war with Islam, further undermining the work of security agencies.” [Bipartisan Policy Center, October 2016]
NY Times: Trump’s Proposed Ban Would Harshly Impact Businesspeople, Students, Tourists, And Foreign Spouses Of American Citizens. The New York Times’ Julia Preston wrote when Trump proposed a version of his ban during the campaign that not only would “identifying areas to include in a ban and persuading Washington to accept that definition” be difficult, but also, “Once a ban is in place, its impact would be harsh for countries on the list” whose “businesspeople could not come for meetings, students could not attend American universities, and tourists could not come to see the sights. Foreign spouses of American citizens could not come to live with their families.” Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, told Preston, “I can see severe adverse political fallout. Countries could retaliate by limiting travel by U.S. citizens, and it would certainly harm our standing in terms of international initiatives negotiating trade deals and stopping wars.” [The New York Times, 6/18/16]
CNN International Correspondent: Ban Based On Countries With Record Of Terrorism Is Nonsensical Because Muslims In Those Countries Are The Ones Fighting ISIS. CNN international correspondent Clarissa Ward said in August that Trump’s proposal to ban immigration based on countries with a record of terrorism “feeds into this divisive anti-Islamic rhetoric,” which is harmful since “it is Muslims that the U.S. is relying upon to fight these important battles.” Ward also said that “the people fighting on the ground are Syrians and Libyans. So how do they feel when they hear this kind of Islamophobic rhetoric coming from the White House, being told that they can't even apply for a visa to visit the U.S., while meanwhile, they're the ones out there the on the battlefield shedding blood and dying to fight against ISIS?” [CNN, At This Hour with Berman and Bolduan, 8/15/16]
Experts And Media Figures Have Noted That A Thinly Disguised Muslim Ban Based On Specific Countries Would Be Unconstitutional
ACLU: “Any Attempt To Disguise The ‘Muslim Ban’” As Based On Nationality Rather Than Religion “Would Fail” A Constitutionality Test. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote in a memo that although “Trump has recently sought to muddy the waters by proposing bans based upon nationality instead of religion,” “intent to discriminate on the basis of religion, even hidden behind pretextual religious neutrality, violates the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection.” The ACLU memo further explained, “To the extent that Trump’s proposed ban has shifted from an explicit religion-based ban to a pretextual country-based ban, it remains unmistakably clear from the history of this proposal and the continuing focus on Muslims in public statements from the Trump campaign that the target continues to be adherents of a particular faith. The Constitution does not tolerate such discrimination.” [American Civil Liberties Union, accessed 1/24/17]
Cato Institute: “Trump’s Ban On Immigration From Certain Countries Is Illegal.” The conservative-leaning Cato Institute’s David Bier wrote, “It is illegal to discriminate against immigrants based on their national origin. ...“President Trump will almost certainly run into legal difficulties if he attempts to carry out his promise.” Bier noted that Section 202(a)(1)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act prohibits Trump from excluding most immigrants based on “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” Bier also explained that the “legislative history” of the act and “court precedent” both back “a ban on national origin discrimination,” and “past presidential actions do not support the legality of Trump’s policy.” [Cato Institute, 12/8/16]
**Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts from U.S. newspapers and wire services from January 1, 2007, through March 17, 2017, for discussions of acts of terrorism committed by R-1 visa holders. We identified and reviewed all results that included the words “R-1 visa” and “attack” or “R-1 visa” and any form of the word “terror,” or “religious worker” within 20 words of the words “visa” and any form of the word “terror.”