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Trump administration points to new terrorism stats in push for immigration reform

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Approximately three out of four individuals convicted of international terrorism over the last 15 years were foreign born, according to a new joint report by the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

That's 402 of the 549 convicted. The report also concluded that 1,716 individuals "with national security concerns" were also removed during that same period. Additionally, it found that the Department of Homeland Security had 2,554 encounters with individuals on the FBI's terrorist screening database traveling to the U.S.

Of the 549 individuals convicted of terrorism during the time period, 254 were not U.S. citizens, 148 were foreign born and received U.S. citizenship and the remaining 147 were born U.S. citizens.

The joint report is the first of its kind required by section 11 of Executive Order 13780, issued by President Trump on March 6.

Titled "Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry into the United States," the executive order declared that "it is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, including those committed by foreign nationals." It also directed various government agencies to take new measures to secure the U.S. from terrorist attacks.

"My top priority as Secretary of Homeland Security is to ensure the safety and security of the American people," said DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a statement. "This report is a clear reminder of why we cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists, and why we must examine our visa laws and continue to intensify screening and vetting of individuals traveling to the United States to prevent terrorists, criminals, and other dangerous individuals from reaching our country."

The report did not say exactly what percentage of people brought in through the visa lottery and chain migration were involved or convicted of terrorism. The official noted that the two agencies are still collecting information pursuant to the order. The statistics also included some foreigners extradited to the U.S. who did not come in thought the immigration system. Perhaps most importantly, it also included those convicted of charges involving terrorism overseas.

A senior administration official who briefed Circa reporters on the report on the condition of anonymity said it "highlighted" the importance of reforming immigration to end so-called "chain migration" and the visa diversity lottery program and replace both with a merit-based system.

The statistics were met with skepticism with some Democrats on Capitol hill.

"This misleading report relies on manufactured data to perpetuate a myth that immigrants — specifically, those from Muslim countries — are dangerous elements within our country," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) in a join statement according to the New York Times.

The report also noted 355,345 non-U.S. citizens were arrested after receiving aggravated felony convictions or two or more felonies from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2017. During that same time, 372,098 non-U.S. citizens were removed from the U.S. after being convicted of an aggravated felony or two or more felonies.

The report, which was supposed to be released last year, comes during the peak of a contentious battle in Washington over immigration reform. Conservatives in Congress and the White House are aiming to end the lottery program and chain migration, in addition to securing funding for immigration enforcement and border security enhancement, including the controversial border wall with Mexico. "Chain migration" is the process in which a legal immigrant in the U.S. can sponsor family members to join them.

Democrats are seeking to ensure a legal status for those under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era policy that protected children brought to the U.S. illegally. A bipartisan agreement appeared to be on the horizon last week, however, the talks stalled after alleged derogatory comments by President Trump regarding certain countries.

Circa's Kellan Howell contributed to this report.

Editor's note: a previous version of this article stated the individuals were convicted of terrorism charges. The report states that these individuals were actually convicted of international terrorism charges.

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