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Donald Trump has advocated for a "temporary" ban on Muslims coming into the United States to prevent any terrorists from crossing the border. But are there already tens of thousands of terrorists coming into the country now? That’s what he claimed in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.
"Look, we are at war with these people, and they don't wear uniforms," Trump said during the May 23, 2016, interview. "It's not your traditional war where it's a war against Germany, Japan, or whoever. This is a war against people that are vicious, violent people, that we have no idea who they are, where they come from. We are allowing tens of thousands of them into our country now."
As with some previous Trump comments we’ve analyzed, this remark is all over the place, making it hard to parse. And the Trump campaign did not get back to us to clarify what he meant.
Still, we decided to take a closer look.
On the one hand, by referring to "vicious, violent people," Trump seems to be referring to terrorists and violent extremists. But there is no evidence that tens of thousands of terrorists are being admitted into the United States today -- much less that they are being "allowed" in, as if there is a visa preference program for terrorists.
On the other hand, Trump is in the numerical ballpark if he’s referring to the number of refugees being admitted into the United States every year -- something else he’s expressed reservations about. Currently, the United States accepts 70,000 refugees from around the world -- not just the Middle East -- and that number is poised to grow to 100,000 in 2017 due to scheduled increases from Syria and Iraq.
However, this would mean that Trump is saying that all or nearly all refugees are terrorists, including the many who are not even Muslim and who don’t come from the Middle East. This is decidedly not the case, experts agreed.
"Donald Trump is conflating the terrorists with those who flee terror," said Mark Hetfield, the president and CEO of HIAS, originally known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. "We are not letting in terrorists, we are letting in refugees from terror. His likening refugees to terrorists is not unlike those who said German Jews from Nazi Germany should be denied immigration because they posed a security risk."
Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that is critical of illegal immigration, speculated that when Trump was referring to "tens of thousands" he may have been conflating the number of refugees and the much larger population of undocumented immigrants, and also conflating run-of-the-mill violent criminals with terrorists.
"It is correct to say there are tens of thousands of violent criminal aliens," Camarota said. "But remember the total noncitizen population who could be subject to removal is huge, and in any human population of this size there will always be tens of thousands who are criminals."
Of course, even if Trump’s statement could be manhandled into an interpretation that possessed some degree of accuracy, it was still wrong as he stated it.
"Trump is certainly wrong on the facts here," said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. That said, Gartenstein-Ross added that more reasonable concerns could have been expressed with less "hyperbolic" rhetoric.
The recent migrant flows from Syria and Iraq into Europe, he said, have provided greater cover for terrorists than experts had predicted early on, and while the United States is not facing as much risk from its ongoing inflow of refugees, that risk is not zero. Just going by the math, some small fraction of refugees can be expected to either be well-concealed operatives who made it through the screening process or, much more likely, people who self-radicalize after arriving in the United States.
Still, Gartenstein-Ross agreed that there is no evidence that "tens of thousands of them" are already here, as Trump said.
Trump said, "Look, we are at war with these people and they don't wear uniforms. … This is a war against people that are vicious, violent people, that we have no idea who they are, where they come from. We are allowing tens of thousands of them into our country now."
There is no evidence that "tens of thousands" of terrorists are coming into the United States, much less that they are being "allowed" in on purpose. While there may be legitimate counter-terrorism concerns about refugee flows, Trump’s overheated rhetoric complicates rather than clarifies the situation. We rate the statement Pants on Fire.https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/6136c6a0-e53d-42f5-b238-62aa5dc4d998
Donald Trump, interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, May 23, 2016
Associated Press, "John Kerry: U.S. To Increase Refugee Admissions To 100,000 By 2017," Sept. 20, 2015
Email interview with Mark Hetfield, the president and CEO of HIAS, May 24, 2016
Email interview with Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, May 25, 2016
Interview with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, May 25, 2016
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