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I previously blogged about a Canadian constitutional challenge to a New Brunswick restriction on purchasing beer from other provinces and bringing it back to New Brunswick. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled on the case yesterday, and, unfortunately, declined its opportunity to establish a broad principle of free trade within Canada.

The constitutional provision at issue, Section 121, states:

All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.

On its face, that sounds pretty broad. But the court came up with a narrow interpretation of the scope of provincial measures that are prohibited:

[114]   In summary, two things are required for s. 121  to be violated. The law must impact the interprovincial movement of goods like a tariff, which, in the extreme, could be an outright prohibition. And, restriction of cross-border trade must be the primary purpose of the law, thereby excluding laws enacted for other purposes, such as laws that form rational parts of broader legislative schemes with purposes unrelated to impeding interprovincial trade.

Applying that standard here, the court found that the New Brunswick restriction, Section 134(b) of the Liquor Control Act, did not violate Section 121:

[125]  We conclude that the primary purpose of s. 134(b) is to prohibit holding excessive quantities of liquor from supplies not managed by the province. New Brunswick’s ability to exercise oversight over liquor supplies in the province would be undermined if non-Corporation liquor could flow freely across borders and out of the garages of bootleggers and home brewers. The prohibition imposed in s. 134(b) addresses both. While one effect of s. 134(b) is to impede interprovincial trade, this effect is only incidental in light of the objective of the provincial scheme in general. Therefore, while s. 134(b) in essence impedes cross-border trade, this is not its primary purpose.

The court could have gone for a number of broader standards, but for whatever reason chose not to. That means free trade within Canada is now dependent on the provinces to avoid interprovincial trade restrictions on their own, or it has to rely on the new Canadian Free Trade Agreement (which updates the previous Agreement on Internal Trade, and is sort of like an international trade agreement that applies to the Canadian provinces). It is possible that this Free Trade Agreement will have some success in getting rid of interprovincial barriers, but a constitutional principle would have been broader and more effective. This court decision was a missed opportunity for Canadian free trade.

The Trump administration has given notice of its intent to expand a current rule denying certain immigration applications to “public charges”—that is, people who are likely to rely on the government for their support. “The primary benefit of the proposed rule would be to help ensure that aliens … are self-sufficient,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) writes in a leaked version of the draft regulation. This intention coheres with Cato proposals to move immigrants (and everyone else) off government support, but the rule itself has serious problems that will have a net negative effect on government budgets.

Since 1891, federal immigration law has denied visas or status to foreigners deemed “likely to become a public charge” in the United States. The likely public charge law does not directly prevent immigrants from legally receiving welfare. Rather, it prevents them from receiving legal status in the United States if a government bureaucrat predicts that they could end up at some point in the future depending on welfare that the law allows them to receive. This draft rule would alter the procedures governing how DHS bureaucrats make these likely public charge predictions. It would apply to anyone in the United States applying to adjust or extend their status in the country or those seeking to enter the country for the first time.

DHS’s current guidance from 1999 defines public charge to mean “primarily dependent” on welfare, as demonstrated with the receipt of certain cash welfare programs. This new rule would redefine the term to mean receipt of any government assistance, including refundable tax credits, in any amount greater than 3 percent of the poverty line—$1 per day for a single person or 50 cents per day per person for a family of four, respectively, over the course of any year of their lives. In addition, it counts the use of public benefits by U.S. citizens—spouses, children, or parents—who depend on the immigrant. To predict future use, the rule requires adjudicators to consider a list of seven factors and at least 19 pieces of evidence.

Brief Overview of the Draft Rule’s Problems

The new rule has seven particularly serious problems.

First, its public charge definition of a $1 per day is overbroad. Public charge has always meant a level of support substantially higher than $1 per day (not to mention 50 cents for families). Because the large majority of immigrants have net positive lifetime effects on government budgets, keeping out immigrants based on such a low level of predicted support makes little fiscal sense. It will inevitably end up excluding many immigrants who will contribute to the U.S. Treasury and economy. DHS should narrow its redefinition to “significantly dependent” on public benefits—cash or otherwise.

Second, DHS’s standard of a $1 per day entirely ignores the degree to which immigrants support themselves. Historically, “public charge” has always had two elements: 1) receipt of benefits and 2) inability to support oneself apart from the support. Yet DHS defines public charge as an absolute amount of benefits—$1/ per day—which could easily account for less than a percent of a person’s income. This outcome ignores the history of the law and lacks fiscal sense because it fails to consider the tax revenue and economic growth foreigners who work create. DHS should assess “significant dependence” based on the amount of benefits relative to the person’s expected income—at least 20 percent of the person’s annual income.

Third, DHS cannot justify counting welfare use by U.S. citizens in the immigrant’s household against applicants. Not only would the U.S. citizens receive these benefits even if the immigrant receives no legal status, denying legal status to a dependent of an immigrant would likely increase their use of public benefits. DHS should only consider benefits used by dependents if they are noncitizens that they have brought with them to the United States.

Fourth, the rule fails to define what DHS means by “likely” to use benefits. Likely implies a level of certainty appreciably above 50:50, but DHS never clarifies this, leaving it up to bureaucrats to decide the threshold on a case-by-case basis. This will lead to inconsistent adjudications and denials to people who should receive approvals. These false positive could result in billions of dollars in lost output and federal revenue without offsetting benefits. A redrafted rule should define the meaning of the word “likely” in accordance with its accepted meaning—a threshold of 70 percent probability of use—giving clarity to applicants and adjudicators.

Fifth, the rule’s complex weighting system for determining likelihood to use benefits is entirely arbitrary. Bureaucrats would determine how to weight the factors—such as age, health, and income—on an ad hoc basis. The process is equivalent to a “merit-based” points system where applicants do not know the point values, and bureaucrats make them up as they go. DHS should use careful statistical analysis to create a factor model to estimate the probability of use precisely. This model would allow immigrants to know whether they qualify in advance of applying.

Sixth, the administration has failed to harmonize DHS’s new rule with State Department’s separate public charge regulations. This means that immigrants who have received a visa abroad, which authorizes travel to the United States, could be evaluated against a completely different standard when they reach a port of entry or, later, when they file additional immigration applications inside the United States. Such discord would create chaos in the legal immigration system. DHS should defer to State Department public charge determinations unless a material change has occurred since State Department approved the immigrant.

Seventh, DHS failed to estimate the major costs of the rule. They only consider the costs associated with filing forms, not with excluding immigrants from the country or separating U.S. citizens from their families. DHS needs to calculate the full costs of the rule. To do so, it needs to estimate the number of immigrants the rule would exclude and estimate the direct and indirect effects of these exclusions on tax receipts and economic growth.

Without these reforms, this rule would exclude far more contributors to the United States than public charges. If Congress wants to prevent immigrants from using any welfare at all, it should amend the law to reflect that goal. Until then, DHS should return to the drawing board and craft a better rule.

What the New Regulations Would Change

U.S. law prohibits any foreigner who is “likely at any time to become a public charge” from receiving a visa or status (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)(A)) and requires deportation of those who become a public charge within five years except from “causes affirmatively shown to have arisen since entry” (8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(5)(A)).” These provisions fail to define any of their terms, but the “likely public charge” assessment must consider several factors: age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, and education or skills (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)(B)). They may also consider the sponsor’s affidavit pledging to support the applicant at 125 percent of the poverty line. If adjudicators do find them to be a “public charge,” they can request that the applicant post a bond to overcome the determination (8 U.S.C. 1183) that the immigrant forfeits if they become a public charge.

DHS’s current guidance came from an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) decision in 1999 to define public charge for the first time, stating that it meant any alien “primarily dependent on the Government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at Government expense” (INS, p. 2). It only considers likelihood to use cash assistance—Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and state and local cash assistance—or “long-term institutionalization” (INS, p. 7). It excluded Medicaid, Food Stamps, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, health insurance subsidies, housing benefits, child care services, job training, transportation benefits, refundable tax credits, and similar state or local programs, and it maintained a distinction between “earned” cash benefits like Social Security or unemployment insurance from unearned ones (INS, p. 7).

The likely receipt of even these limited benefits will not necessarily result in a public charge determination (INS, p. 7). Rather, the adjudicator must account for the “totality of the circumstances,” considering the factors listed in the statute. The State Department adopted the same definition and similar guidance for issuing visas abroad (which was updated in January 2018). The current DHS guidance fails to give applicants a concrete understanding of when they would be deemed a public charge, but because the definition of public charge is so limited, it creates very little disruption. Barely a half of a percent of immigrant visa applicants—and virtually no temporary visa applicants—received such a public charge visa refusal in 2017, and two thirds of those overcame the determination through additional evidence or bonds.

Relying on the State Department’s older guidance that considered noncash benefits but did not provide a definition of “public charge” or “likely to become,” consular officers refused 204,733 immigrant visas on public charge grounds from 1991 to 2000, ramping up steadily year after year until the 1999 guidance (Figure below). The State Department also rejected 35,290 nonimmigrant visas. During this time, public charge refusals represented nearly a quarter of all immigrant visa denials and accounted for nearly all denials based on a specific ground of refusal as opposed to the general ground “Applications Do Not Comply With the Law.”

From 2001 to 2017, the State Department refused just 8,176 immigrant visas on public charge grounds—7 percent of total immigrant visa refusals—and 11,877 nonimmigrant visas—0.4 percent of the total. Unfortunately, the trends before 1991 are unknown.

Figure 1: Public Charge Visa Refusals by State Department Consular Officers, 1991-2017*

Source: U.S. Department of State (1991-1999, 2000-2017)
*Note that years with no refusals actually had “negative” refusals, meaning that refusals in prior years were overturned

To put the 204,000 State Department visa refusals in context, INS denied entry to only slightly more than that number in its entire history from 1892 to 1990 (219,439). INS’s public charge denials fell so low that it stopped publishing the figures after 1990.

Figure 2: Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Public Charge Exclusions at Ports of Entry, 1892-1990

Source: Immigration and Naturalization Service

DHS’s new draft regulations would repeal the “primarily dependent” guidance and redefine public charge to mean “any government assistance in the form of cash, checks or other forms of money transfers, or instrument and non-cash government assistance in the form of aid, services, or other relief, that is means-tested or intended to help the individual meet basic living requirements such as housing, food, utilities, or medical care” (pp. 204-205). It would also end the cash-noncash distinction and incorporate a list of 14 benefit types, including Medicaid, Food Stamps, Child Health Insurance Program, and refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (pp. 210-11). Italics in Table 1 indicate changes from current law. It would exclude “earned” benefits like Social Security, public education, government loans, in-state tuition, disability benefits, and Medicare unless a government covered the premiums.

Table 1: List of Public Benefits Included or Excluded from Public Charge Consideration under DHS Draft Rule

  Public benefits include   Public benefits exclude


Supplemental Security Income


Social Security (OASD)


Temporary Assistance to Needy Families


Veteran’s benefits


State cash benefit programs


Unemployment insurance


Other Federal benefits for purposes of maintaining the applicant’s income


Medicare benefits, unless the premiums are partially or fully paid by a government agency


Nonemergency Medicaid


State disability insurance


Subsidized health insurance


Government loans that require repayment


SNAP (Food Stamps)


In-state college tuition


Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)


Student loans


Child Health Insurance Program


Public benefits received where the total annual value in any 1 year does not exceed 3 percent of the total Federal Poverty Guidelines


Housing assistance


Elementary and secondary public education


Means-tested energy benefits


Benefits under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act


Institutionalization at government expense


Non-refundable tax credits, and refundable tax credits that are not means-tested


EITC (and similar refundable tax credits)    


Other similar benefits    

Source: Department of Homeland Security.
Note: italics = change from current law.

The proposed rule would also not consider de minimis amounts of public benefits of less than 3 percent of the federal poverty line, $364 a year for a single person or $753 for a family of four—the equivalent of $1 per day per person or 50 cents per day per person, respectively (pp. 211-12). It would consider benefits received by dependents, including citizens, of the immigrant (pp. 69, 74-76). The draft rule change would only take into account newly classified benefits if the applicant received them after the date on which the new regulations are finalized (p. 111). This would give current recipients time to transition to self-sufficiency.

In addition, if an adjudicator determines an applicant to be a likely public charge, they can allow them to post a public charge bond—currently a procedure rarely used. The applicant would pay an amount commensurate with their level of risk but not less than $10,000 (pp. 115-17) and be allowed to adjust status or enter the country. This process would only be available, however, to those without a highest level of risk, based on factors described below (see Tables 2 and 3 at the end). The bond amounts would be based on the average 5-year benefit receipt level for persons using public benefits based on household size.

Moreover, the new rule would affect immigrants only when applying to enter, extend, or change their status in the United States (p. 1). In the leaked draft, the sections related to deportability are left blank “to be inserted” (pp. 219-220). Even if the change did apply to current residents, it is unlikely to result in many deportations. Under current law, if a resident can show that the causes of their indigence arose after their arrival, or that they became a public charge more than 5 years after entry, they cannot be deported (8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(5)(A). At the same time, case law requires government authorities to request repayment within 5 years of the person’s entry, a legal obligation must exist to repay, and the immigrant must refuse to repay (see Matter of B—, 3 I. & N. Dec. 323 (BIA 1948)).

Problems with the DHS Public Charge Rule

1.      DHS defines “public charge” much too broadly

The average immigrant is a lifetime net fiscal contributor. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently produced a number of estimates on the direct fiscal effects of immigration (p. 349, Table 8-14), and the average of those estimates indicate that a recent immigrant to the United States will contribute to all levels of government, in net present value terms, $150,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their lifetime. That makes it critical that the definition of “public charge” is not overbroad, excluding people who would be net fiscal contributors. Unfortunately, DHS’s definition is overbroad.

DHS labels as a “public charge” any immigrant who it expects to receive, as a single person, $1 per day or more in public benefits (pp. 211-12). For a family of four, it sets the level at 50 cents per day per person. This definition fails to accord with the plain meaning or historical understanding of “public charge”—or ward of the state—which has always implied a significant degree of support, not any support at all. Nineteenth century authorities use the phrase in connection to vagrants, beggars, indigents, or paupers. The Immigration Act of 1891 explicitly equated people likely to become public charges with paupers. Each of these words denotes a severe level of impoverishment.

The legislative history reinforces this impression. In the 1820s, New York and Massachusetts passed laws to require shipmasters to pay a bond to indemnify the city against costs associated with passengers who later became “chargeable as paupers” to the city. The bonds were forfeit if the individual entered an almshouse within a few years of entry, meaning that almshouse residency was the effective definition of public charge. The Supreme Court’s 1875 decision to overturn these state laws as unconstitutional led directly to the 1882 passage of the federal law that excluded immigrants “chargeable as paupers,” later amended to keep out those “likely to become a public charge” in 1891. Courts subsequently read this phrase “to exclude persons who were likely to become occupants of almshouses for want of means with which to support themselves in the future” (Howe v. Savitsky (1917)).

Unlike INS’s 1999 guidance, DHS makes absolutely no attempt to tie its new rule change to this history. Indeed, all they can offer as justification is the 1922 case of Ex parte Kichmiriantz in which a California District Court read the statute to mean “money charge on, or an expense to, the public for support and care” of an immigrant. Yet this case involved a young man admitted to an insane asylum for permanent year-round care. DHS cannot extrapolate the phrase “an expense to the public” in the context of this case into any expense at all. Far from undertaking a rigorous analysis of the phrase, the judge was simply noting that given the fact that the man had not imposed any expense to the public because his parents had covered his bills, he could not possibly be a public charge. DHS reverses the judge’s meaning. Nothing in the legislative history or judicial record endorses such a broad rule.

Excluding people based on such a low level of welfare consumption makes  no fiscal sense either. According to NAS, the vast majority of immigrants are fiscal contributors (p. 349). The DHS rule implies that America’s fiscal outlook would improve if most Americans, who at some point live in a household using benefits, set out for other lands. Far from protecting U.S. taxpayers, such an exodus would shrink the economy and tax revenues with it. This absurd conclusion demonstrates the importance of a narrowly targeted rule.

DHS could, however, reasonably update its public charge definition. By excluding noncash benefits of any kind, the current guidance implies that someone could not become primarily dependent on the government through their use alone or in combination with other assistance. This is incorrect. The statute could justify broader definition, such as “significantly dependent,” that also considered noncash benefits.

2.      DHS defines “public charge” without regard to ability to support themselves

As the history of public charge shows, the phrase has always had two aspects: 1) receipt of significant government assistance and 2) inability to support oneself apart from that assistance. That is why historical sources identify public charges with paupers and other destitute individuals. Howe v. Savitsky (1917) emphasized that public charges entered almshouses “for want of means with which to support themselves in the future.” In the original understanding, public charge was not just about the willingness of the person to use benefits, but also the perceived moral necessity of the government giving them benefits. The government had to take “charge” of the person to prevent their starvation or total destitution.

For this reason, current DHS guidance defines public charge relative to the income of the applicant, “primarily dependent” on government assistance (i.e. 51 percent of a person’s income). According to DHS, it “does not believe that an alien must be 50 percent or more dependent on the government to be considered a public charge” (p. 42). This objection is reasonable, but rather than reducing the standard to 51 percent to 30 percent, 20 percent, or 10 percent, of a person’s income, they drop the relative standard entirely and adopt an inflexible absolute threshold of 3 percent of the poverty line: a dollar per day (or less in the case of families). Even a person in poverty could be expected to be more than 95 percent self-sufficient, yet receive a public charge determination. People with higher incomes could be more than 99 percent self-sufficient, and yet receive public charge denials.

In 1906, the House of Representatives considered a bill that would have required all male immigrants to present $25 to avoid a public charge determination. In 1907, nominal per capita GDP was $392.81, so the proposed requirement was 6 percent of per capita GDP. In 2017, 6 percent of per capita GDP was about $3,100. In 1906, however, members of Congress saw the $25 test as much more restrictive than current law, meaning that because this legislation never became law, it would be difficult to justify an interpretation more restrictive than this standard. Beyond the failure to accord with the statute, an absolute amount of benefits receipt is fiscally senseless because it ignores the tax revenue and economic growth created from productive foreign workers.

Public charge implies a degree of support where the person would have significant difficulty surviving without the government assistance. As suggested above, a reasonable definition of public charge would require the person to be “significantly dependent” on the government. DHS should define significant dependence relative to the person’s income. DHS can reasonably argue that the current 50 percent threshold is too high. At the same time, if 90 percent of an applicant’s income is expected to come from private sources, they would clearly not be a public charge, as they are nearly self-sufficient already—20 percent of annual income seems like the lowest reasonable definition.

3.      DHS counts benefits received by U.S. citizen family against immigrants

DHS will consider public benefits that the U.S. citizen children or spouses in the immigrants’ household may receive in the future if they are the immigrants’ dependents (pp. 69, 74-76). In other words, the one dollar or 50 cents per day standard of support may not even be intended for the immigrant themselves, but rather U.S.-born citizens. On numerous occasions, Cato has criticized this household-centric methodology of assessing the fiscal effects of immigration. Counting the fiscal effects of U.S.-born spouses for or against immigrants is unjustifiable, and while the effects of their descendants are worthy of consideration, considering them only when they live in the household with the immigrant leads to absurd conclusions, like all children are fiscal drains (true, but only as children).

DHS should expect immigrants to support those noncitizen dependents that they bring with them. But even without legal status for the immigrant, U.S. citizens in their household would either 1) receive the same benefits or 2) receive even more benefits if the parent or spouse on whom they depend is refused status in the country. In other words, banning immigrants based on the projected future use of their citizen dependents could actually have negative fiscal value by removing the means of support for certain citizens.

DHS could claim that but for the immigrant, the U.S.-born children would not exist. As a theoretical matter, it is unclear how DHS could justify this counterfactual. Without the immigrant, their spouse may have married someone else and had just as many children. Regardless, the fact is that these children do already exist at the time of application. Counting their receipt of benefits for public charge purposes would not result in the children becoming ineligible for those benefits. DHS’s methodology only results in the denial of status to the breadwinner, which would likely make their children or spouse needier. DHS should only consider the receipt of benefits of the noncitizen dependents of the applicant.

4.      DHS fails to define “likely” to become a public charge

Because current guidance only considers cash benefits—and just 1 in 56 noncitizens currently use cash benefits (p. 51)—the prior probability of an applicant becoming a public charge under its definition is low. Only extraordinary circumstances result in denials on this ground. By contrast, 1 in 4 noncitizens use noncash benefits (p. 51). This raises the prior probability considerably and so requires more carefully considering how the prediction is made. Unfortunately, DHS failed to clarify the key word “likely,” leaving it up adjudicators to determine the probability threshold for refusal on a case-by-case basis.

Without stipulating an acceptable rate of false positives—people erroneously excluded—DHS leaves it open to individual adjudicators to develop their own standards. This will sow chaos in the immigration system as applicants will have no way to know how their application will be processed. This type of uncertainty results in fewer applicants overall—another cost of the rule. Indeed, it was partly for this reason that INS issued its guidance in 1999.

In plain language, “likely” means, per Merriam-Webster, “having a high probability of occurring or being true” or “very probable.” These definitions imply a probability appreciably higher than 50:50. According to a CIA analysis, the median CIA analyst considers “likely” to refer to a roughly 70 percent chance of occurrence. The 30 or more percent who are deemed a likely public charge when, in fact, they would not become a public charge if granted the ability to live in the United States legally is a major cost of the rule that DHS fails entirely to reckon with. Congress did not write a statute that allows DHS to exclude anyone who has a significant possibility of becoming a public charge. They specified “likely.” DHS should clarify the meaning of “likely” as a 70 percent probability of future benefits use.

5.      DHS’s process for determining likelihood will mislabel applicants as public charges

The draft rule creates a nontransparent weighting system to identify whether someone is likely to be a public charge. Like the underlying statute (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)(B)), the rule calls for adjudicators to take into account seven primary factors—age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, and education or skills—and 19 types of evidence (pp. 205-209, see Table 2). It also adds four heavily weighted negative factors—inability to show employment history or prospect of employment, past public benefits use, a medical condition without unsubsidized health insurance, and an earlier public charge determination—and a heavily weighted positive factor—being able to support oneself and dependents at 250 percent of the poverty line (Table 3).

DHS uses the above factors to create tables showing welfare participation rates among various subpopulations of noncitizens, noting purported correlations between a certain factor and welfare use (pp. 51-105). All of these tables are based on all noncitizens rather than subgroups that must pass a public charge test. Even still, none of the subpopulations had, according to DHS’s own tables, benefits use rates above 50 percent. Even a minority of all noncitizens with incomes below 125 percent of the poverty line received public benefits of any kind in 2013 (p. 105). In other words, none of DHS’s tables by themselves provide evidence in favor of a likely public charge determination based on its factors.

DHS does state that it will take into account all of the factors, considering the “totality of circumstances” (p. 209). “If the negative factors and circumstances outweigh the positive factors and circumstances,” it writes (p. 56), “then DHS would conclude that the applicant is likely to become a public charge.” This weighting mechanism only adds to the confusion. It replaces a simple checklist with an infinitely complex factor model. If none of the factors separately indicates a likely public charge determination, DHS would need to show that the combination of any two factors increase the likelihood of public benefits use and by how much. To do this, they would need to use statistical analysis to identify which factors actually matter.

Rather than clarifying its weighting system, DHS explicitly notes that it will adopt different weights on a case-by-case basis, stating that the “weight given [by an adjudicator] to an individual factor would depend on the particular facts and circumstances of each case” (p. 55). DHS states that “multiple factors operating together may be weighted more heavily” (p. 55). Yet DHS fails to validate any of its conclusions with statistical analysis. As a result, many of its factors could be measuring the same underlying issue.

DHS fails to appreciate this flaw in its system. It notes purported correlations between welfare participation and education (p. 80) as well as income (p. 102). Further, it claims to show “relationships” between public benefits use and age (p. 58), family size (p. 72), English language proficiency (p. 89), and poor health (p. 99). Other discussions imply correlations between public benefits use and educational certificates or licenses (p. 87), employment (p. 95), past benefits use (p. 74), income of sponsor (p. 94), and receipt of a fee waiver for an immigration application (p. 76).

Yet it is clear that these factors are all related. Benefits availability is based on income thresholds. Employment and age are correlated. English language proficiency is related to education level, and so on. DHS simply has not demonstrated which factors matter and which do not. Thus, an applicant could receive negative weights for four or five factors that have no effect, while the one that does have an effect is “outweighed” in DHS’s analysis.

One factor deserves special attention. DHS gives little weight to the sponsorship of immigrants and to sponsors affidavits of support, writing that “DHS expects that a sponsor’s signed agreement would not be an outcome-determinative factor in most cases” because “DHS does not believe that an affidavit of support guarantees that the alien will not use or receive public benefits” (p. 94).

In support of this latter proposition, it cites a 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finding that 11 percent of sponsored immigrants applied for TANF, Medicaid, or SNAP during the course of 2007 (p. 93). Yet this same report found that “applicants often withdraw their applications” when they discover that the sponsor may have to repay benefits or that their sponsor’s income level may make them ineligible (GAO, pp. 10-11). While national benefit use data for sponsored noncitizens were unavailable, less than 0.05 percent of TANF, Medicaid, or SNAP recipients in Florida were sponsored noncitizens (GAO, p. 13).

This faulty weighting system causes four problems. First, it will result in denials of applicants who should receive approvals. Second, it will lead to denials of applications from people who should never have applied. Third, it will lead to inconsistency between adjudicators with each adopting different standards. Fourth, the inconsistency and uncertainty will reduce applications from people who should apply. All of these mechanisms will injure, rather than protect, the public purse. DHS should use data to create a statistical model that provides precise and objective predictions about future use.

6.      DHS’s rules conflict with State Department’s public charge guidance

DHS’s rule applies only to immigrants (i.e. permanent residents) or temporary visitors, workers, and students (i.e. nonimmigrants) seeking admission at ports of entry or adjusting or extending status inside the United States (p. 1). The State Department handles issuing visas to foreign nationals abroad. In order to obtain a visa, immigrants must also prove to State Department consular officers that they are not likely to become a public charge. Visas allow immigrants to board planes and ask DHS immigration officers to enter the United States. Yet DHS’s new rule substantially conflicts with State Department’s separate public charge guidance, meaning that immigrants could end up receiving approvals from State abroad only to receive denials from DHS in the United States.

When the State Department updated its public charge guidance in January 2018, it retained the old “primarily dependent” definition of public charge that excludes dependence on noncash benefits. Its January changes reasonably allow consular officers to consider noncash benefits as one reason to believe that a person may become dependent on cash assistance. They also overturn a presumption that an affidavit of support by itself is sufficient to show non-likelihood, requiring consular officers to consider whether the sponsor is themselves already on public benefits. But even with these updates, State’s guidance is much less onerous than DHS’s proposed rules (as well as more transparent), resulting a dramatic disconnect between policy abroad and policy in the United States.

State could again update its public charge guidance to harmonize it with DHS’s changes, but considering it just updated it in January, we have reason to doubt this. According to DHS, State “would continue to review affidavits of support and screen aliens for public charge inadmissibility in accordance with its regulations and instructions prior to the alien undergoing inspection and applying for admission at a pre-inspection location or port-of-entry” (pp. 36-37). DHS does not explain how the agency would handle any potential conflict. Regardless whether State updates its guidance again, DHS should specifically clarify that it will defer to State Department public charge determinations if State reviews the immigrant before DHS, unless their situation has significantly changed.

7.      DHS failed to consider most of the costs of its public charge rule.

DHS’s cost-benefit analysis stretches for 36 pages, but only considers the costs of its new immigration application forms (pp. 146-182). It specifically states that it “was not able to estimate potential lost productivity, early death, or increased disability insurance claims as a result of this proposed rule” (p. 129). In addition, here are costs that DHS has failed to consider:

  1. The number of immigrants excluded under this rule as well as the number of U.S. citizens denied the ability to hire foreign employees, reunite with their spouses, children, parents, or siblings, or otherwise engage with foreign persons.
  2. Lost economic growth and tax revenue due to excluding more immigrants and temporary visitors than under current law.
  3. Lost economic growth and tax revenue due to excluding immigrants who use only minor benefits (see #1 above).
  4. Benefits use increases by U.S. citizens due to denying legal status to immigrants with U.S. citizen dependents (#2 above).
  5. Lost economic growth and tax revenue due to excluding immigrants who are not likely to become a public charge (#3-4 above).
  6. Lost economic growth and tax revenue due to immigrants and nonimmigrants refusing to apply in the face of greater uncertainty and higher fees (#3-5).

DHS did not consider broader economic and fiscal effects of its rule because it claims that “there is a lack of academic literature or economic research examining the link between immigration and public benefits,” (p. 129) citing chapter 9 of Harvard economist George Borjas’s non-academic book, We Wanted Workers (2016). Yet nowhere in the cited chapter does Borjas claim to have reached this conclusion. Indeed, he cites the National Academy of Science’s 1997 and 2016 reports on the fiscal effects of immigration, which found short-term net costs and long-term net benefits to all levels of government. These reports in turn cite other studies. Alex Nowrasteh’s 2014 review of the academic literature on the fiscal impact of immigration has more nine pages of academic references.

DHS further states that it “is also difficult to determine whether immigrants are net contributors or net users of government-supported public assistance programs since much of the answer depend on the data source, how the data are used, and what assumptions are made for analysis” (p. 129). The difficulty cannot be doubted, but academics have already performed the most difficult tasks, identifying the assumptions that matter and how they effect the results, and DHS is under a legal obligation to undertake such an analysis. The unwillingness to make assumptions simply defaults to an assumption of zero cost. DHS is effectively telling the public that if the costs are infinite, the rule is still worth it.


The rule would not prevent legal immigrants from accessing welfare if the law allows them to obtain it, setting up a strange dichotomy between our rules at entry and our rules after entry. Under current law, the administration generally cannot prevent immigrants from using welfare in such cases, so no matter how the administration ends up reforming the public charge determinations, Congress should amend the law to limit government benefits only to citizens. The private sector can—and already is—aiding immigrants when they fall on hard times or need help to get ahead, and the evidence indicates that similar restrictions enacted in 1996 had no major effects on immigrant poverty.

A strict no-welfare rule would further protect U.S. taxpayers, allow for higher levels of immigration, provide an incentive for immigrants to assimilate and naturalize, and avoid the necessity—as under this new rule—of turning bureaucrats into soothsayers.


Table 2: Factors for Public Charge Determinations under DHS Rule

  Factors I The alien’s age


between 18 and 61 II The alien’s health.


A diagnosis of a medical condition by a civil surgeon or panel physician;


Evidence of non-subsidized health insurance


Evidence of assets and resources III The alien’s family status


being a dependent or having dependent(s) makes it more or less likely that the alien will become a public charge. IV The alien’s education and skills.


a history of employment


a high school degree or higher education


any occupational skills, certifications, or licenses


proficient in English or another language as relevant to working fulltime V The alien’s assets and resources


the alien can support him or herself and any dependents, at the level of at least 125 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines


The alien’s annual gross income


support to the alien from another person


The alien’s cash assets and resources, including as reflected in checking and savings account statements


The alien’s non-cash assets and resources that can be converted into cash within 12 months VI The alien’s financial status


Whether the alien or any dependent has sought, received, or used, or any public benefit


Whether the alien has sought or has received a fee waiver for an immigration benefit


The alien’s credit history and credit score


Whether the alien has received or is currently receiving any subsidized health insurance VII An affidavit of support


Sufficient affidavit of support must meet the sponsorship and income requirements


Table 3: Heavily Weighted Factors for Public Charge Determinations under DHS Rule

  Heavily Weighted Negative


Non-students who are unable to demonstrate current employment, and have no employment history or no reasonable prospect of future employment


Using one or more public benefits within the last 36 months


Having a medical condition and being unable to show evidence of unsubsidized health insurance, the prospect of obtaining it, or other non-governmental means of paying for treatment


Having previously been found inadmissible or deportable based on public charge   Other factors as warranted   Heavily weighed positive factors


The alien has financial assets, resources, and support of at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or is authorized to work and is currently employed with an annual income of at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines   Other factors as warranted

State Department Regulations: 22 CFR 40.41

State Department Guidance: 9 FAM 302.8

DHS Regulations: N/A

DHS Guidance: 64 FR 28689

Where government debt is concerned, advanced economies should be fixing the roof while the sun shines. That’s the central message of a new IMF Fiscal Monitor entitled “Capitalizing on Good Times.”

The paper entails projections based on growth forecasts and budget plans of what will happen to deficits and debt across advanced economies. And the results for the United States are not pretty. In fact, as the chart below shows, the US is now the only advanced country projected to see a rising debt-to-GDP ratio in the coming 5 years.1

Now we have to take all this with a pinch of salt of course. For advanced economies as a whole the IMF says “the fiscal stance is expected to be mildly expansionary in 2018 and 2019, followed by gradual adjustment in outer years”. I’ll believe that when I see it. Governments around the world have a tendency to plan to be fiscally responsible in a few years’ time, without eventually delivering, and to be overoptimistic about their growth prospects (many of which, it’s worth noting, are much, much worse than the US).

But it is notable that the US is now the only country which is explicitly planning for larger budget deficits, and higher public debt to-GDP, over the next half decade. Hot on the heels of the CBO analysis last week, this report again shows just how unprecedented current US policy action (deliberately expanding borrowing via the tax and omnibus spending bills) and inaction (on entitlement spending) is given the favorable economic conditions.

1 The IMF uses a different definition of debt here – gross government debt – whereas figures usually reported in the media, and by the Congressional Budget Office related to public debt held by the public.

Shortly after the air and missile strikes that U.S., British and French forces launched against the Syrian government’s alleged chemical weapons sites, British Prime Minister Theresa May insisted that the goal simply was to degrade the ability of Bashar-al Assad’s regime to use such weapons in the future and to bolster the longstanding international taboo. “These strikes are about deterring the barbaric use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond.” May stressed: “This was not about interfering in a civil war.  And it was not about regime change.”

Her comment simply lacks credibility. There is no such thing as a neutral military intervention by outside powers. Even if the intervenors do not intend to affect the wider political context, the act of attacking one party in a civil war automatically works to the disadvantage of that party and strengthens the position of its adversaries. President George H. W. Bush’s deployment of U.S. troops in Somalia in late 1992 did not seem to have an underlying geopolitical purpose. The situation in that fractured country was indeed dire, with tens of thousands of people already starving. Washington’s relief effort aimed at using the U.S. military to distribute food and take other measures to ease the widespread suffering. It fit the definition of a truly humanitarian military mission.

Nevertheless, the moment U.S. troops arrived, they inevitably began to affect the balance of power among the contending militias. Some of those factions soon resented the American presence, and sporadic armed clashes erupted between their fighters and U.S. troops. That dynamic culminated an intense firefight in the capital, Mogadishu—the “Blackhawk Down” episode in early October 1993 that claimed the lives of 18 U.S. Army Rangers and more than 300 Somalis.

In the case of Syria, Western officials cannot even invoke the defense of not wanting to meddle in that country’s larger political and military struggles. Within months after demonstrations erupted against Assad’s rule in 2011, Washington and its allies began to aid the insurgency. Washington helped organize an ad hoc collaboration of some 60 nations (primarily a combination of Western and Sunni Muslim powers) to do so. That group, which became known as the Friends of the Syrian People, met in Tunis in late February 2012 to formulate aid plans, including the provision of “emergency” supplies to refugees and “increased training” for Syrian opposition leaders. In her memoirs, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that although the United States was “not prepared to join such efforts to arm the rebels,” she did tell the Saudi-led coalition that Washington would supplement their efforts by providing nonlethal assistance. By September 2013, the CIA was indisputably providing weapons to insurgent forces.

U.S. support for so-called moderate rebels has increased inexorably since then. In addition to aiding existing factions, the Obama administration asked Congress in June 2014 to authorize $500 million to vet, train, and equip a new force of moderate fighters. Officials spent all of those funds over the next 14 months, but managed to graduate only a few dozen fighters, most of whom quickly defected or surrendered to more radical Islamist forces. 

In light of such a lengthy track record of Western aid to anti-Assad insurgents, it is preposterous for U.S. and Western European leaders to claim that they have no intention of interfering in Syria’s internal strife. From the beginning, their goal has been to help oust Assad from power. Interference in the internal affairs of another nation is objectionable on principle, but it also is strategically unwise in the case of Syria. The reality is that there are very few “moderate” Syrian rebels in any Western meaning of that term. The few secular, democratic types who do exist are largely ineffectual militarily. Militant Sunni Islamists dominate the ranks of the anti-Assad insurgents. With the decline of ISIS, the most powerful faction is Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate).

By degrading the Syrian government’s military assets with the latest attacks, as well as the missile strikes following the earlier chemical weapons incident in early 2017, the West risks enabling the Islamist rebel coalition to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the Syrian conflict. Assad is assuredly a corrupt and brutal ruler, but to help empower such a successor regime is hardly in the West’s best interest. Yet contrary to May’s statements about not interfering in Syria’s struggle, a rebel victory still appears to be the goal of the Western powers.

Raúl Castro is stepping down as president of Cuba. His replacement—Miguel Díaz-Canel—is not only a much younger man (57), but also a civilian. The image of an elderly Cuban dictator wearing an olive-green uniform will soon be thing of the past. Perhaps tropical versions of glasnost and perestroika could also be in the offing?

Don’t get your hopes up.

As Cuban dissident and human rights activist Antonio Rodiles puts it, believing that democratic transition is possible from within the regime constitutes the triumph of hope over facts. First, Raúl is not retiring yet. He remains the secretary general of the Communist Party until 2021. This is the post where true power lies in Cuba. Raúl will also stay as the commander in chief of the armed forces. It seems Díaz-Canel will be just a figurehead of the regime.

Second, Raúl has been grooming his son, Alejandro Castro Espín, to replace him as secretary general of the Communist Party in 2021. Castro Espín is already one of the most powerful—and feared—figures in Cuba. Moreover, Raúl’s son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas is the CEO of Grupo de Administración Empresarial Sociedad Anónima (GAESA), the military-owned conglomerate that controls 60 percent of the island’s economy. The Castro family will continue calling the shots.

Finally, in recent years the Cuban authorities, including Díaz-Canel, have been adamant that Cuba’s Stalinist political and economic system is not negotiable. Those who expect the new president to be a Cuban Gorbachev will be disappointed.

One group that can attest to the brutish nature of the Cuban regime—and how repression of dissidents has actually increased lately—is The Ladies in White. For a decade and a half, they have been beaten and harassed by government thugs for demanding the release of political prisoners and the introduction of more civil and political liberties. I’m very pleased that in the context of this phony transition in Cuba, Cato awarded them the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty 2018.

Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the struggle for freedom of The Ladies in White will successfully end any time soon. The Cuban dictatorship will stay in place, just with a younger face at its helm.

Cato adjunct scholars Charlie Silver and David Hyman have an important oped in today’s Houston Chronicle explaining how third-party payment increases prices for drugs and other medical goods and services. An excerpt:

If you’re like us, your health insurance coverage includes a prescription drug benefit. The benefit isn’t free, but you’re willing to pay for it because it saves you money every time you have a prescription filled. You are responsible for your co-pay, and your insurer pays the rest.

At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. But the truth is that your insurer often pays nothing. Your co-pay is all the pharmacy receives. Not only that, but your co-pay often exceeds the amount that someone without insurance would have paid for the drug. That’s right: People who don’t have insurance are paying less than you are for the same drug…

The scam works by taking advantage of consumers’ naive belief that their insurers are watching out for them. Suppose you have high blood pressure and your doctor prescribes amlodipine, a medication used by millions. If you have insurance, you probably think your insurer negotiated a great deal because a month’s supply at the pharmacy costs you only $10. But if you paid cash for the same drug at Costco, you’d have to pay only $1.85…

The real problem is that insurance is a terrible way of paying for things that we can and should pay for directly. Price-gouging does not happen with drugs that are sold over-the-counter at retail outlets like CVS, Costco or Wal-Mart. Those prices are transparent and easy to compare. When people pay directly for drugs, there are no hidden transfers between pharmacies and PBMs either. Competition does for cash customers what PBMs and pharmacies don’t seem able to do for one in four of the prescriptions filled by insured customers — reduce drug prices to the lowest sustainable level.

Overcharges occur throughout the rest of our health care system too, and they drive up the cost of all sorts of procedures. Why? Because insurers don’t care about costs nearly as much as patients do. If we want to get health care spending under control, we should pay for it directly as often as we can.

Read the whole thing.

Speaking to a group of law enforcement officials in Raleigh, NC yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced proposed rule changes to the way the Drug Enforcement Administration sets quotas on the manufacturing of opioids. The DEA now presumes to be able to divine the likelihood a particular type of prescription opioid will be diverted to the illegal market when setting production quotas. 

The Attorney General said, “Under this proposed new rule, if DEA believes that a company’s opioids are being diverted for misuse, then they will reduce the amount of opioids that company can make.”

The DEA ordered a 25 percent reduction in opioid production in 2017 and another 20 percent reduction for 2018. The tight quotas on opioid production contributed to the acute shortage of injectable opioids being felt in hospitals across the nation. It is not only making patients suffer needlessly but places them at increased risk for adverse drug reactions or overdose. Just the other day, after pleas from numerous medical professional associations, with the shortage reaching crisis levels, the DEA announced it will begin to relax this year’s quotas. But it may take months before things improve. 

The damage to hospitalized patients is an unintended consequence of central planning and should come as no surprise. DEA administrators had the fatal conceit of believing they could determine just how many opioids should be produced for what they call the “legitimate” pain control needs of the nation’s patients. Yet even after the DEA recognized that the quotas caused harm, with these new proposed regulations they are determined to get back up in the saddle and ride that horse again.

Despite the reduction in opioid supply and a 41 percent reduction in the prescription of high-dose opioids by health care practitioners since 2010—the year prescribing peaked—the overdose rate continues to soar, having increased 20 percent from 2015 to 2016. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nonmedical use of prescription opioids peaked in 2012, and total prescription opioid use in 2014 was less than in 2012. The evidence is that nonmedical users migrate to cheaper and easier to obtain heroin and fentanyl when diverted prescription opioids become less available. The overdose rate from fentanyl has increased at a clip of 88 percent per year since 2013, and the overdose rate from heroin increased 19 percent per year for the past 2 years after increasing at a rate of 33 percent per year from 2010-2014. Meanwhile, the overdose rate increase for prescription opioids has been unchanged at 3 percent per year since 2009.

The Attorney General and the DEA administrators seem unable to learn from their mistakes. They continue to view the opioid overdose crisis as a product of the number of pills produced or prescribed. They have been wrong about this from the get-go. It has always been the result of nonmedical users accessing drugs in a black market fueled by drug prohibition. The underground market responds quickly. It provides nonmedical users with cheaper and more dangerous and deadly drugs in response to prescription opioid restrictions. 

Not content with the damage they have already caused, regulators appear ready to double down on the supply-side approach to the overdose crisis. This means America’s hospitals can look forward to more and possibly greater shortages of vitally needed opioids, while first responders swell their emergency rooms with ever growing numbers of heroin and fentanyl overdoses.

In my new policy analysis released today, I identify 65 vetting failures where the visa vetting system allowed a foreign-born person to enter the United States as an adult or older teenager when they had already radicalized—80 percent occurred before 9/11. Just 13 vetting failures have occurred since 9/11, and only one—the last one (Tashfeen Malik)—resulted in any deaths in the United States. That’s one vetting failure for every 29 million visa or status approvals, and one deadly failure for every 379 million visa or status approvals from 2002 to 2016.

As I note, 9/11 is reasonable point of analysis because after the attacks the United States invested heavily in new vetting procedures. I define vetting failure as broadly as possible to include even private thoughts that later became public and anyone who committed their offense within a decade of entry even without evidence that they radicalized before entry. The vast majority of terrorism offenders both before and after 9/11 were born in the United States, grew up here, or lived for lengthy periods before they committed an offense.

I ran out of room in my policy analysis to provide detailed biographies and details on each vetting failure, so here is supplemental information about each vetting failure. This list should help the government better understand the phenomenon that so worries the president. In the policy analysis, I have tables in the policy analysis that break down each failure based on their status at entry, age at entry, type of information missed, chage year, nationality, and type of offense—either domestic plot or support for groups abroad. Below are figures from my policy analysis, highlighting the changes over time, and at the end, there are tables listing the vetting failures:


1. Fadil Abdelghani was born in Sudan and arrived in 1987 on a tourist visa at the age of 25. According the 9/11 Travel Report, he “overstayed his 1987 tourist visa and obtained legal residency by marrying an American.” During his trial, however, his lawyer stated that he came in 1989, and then worked as a cabdriver in New York. Fadil who grew up as the son of wealthy Sudanese parents testified that he was an unwitting participant in the plot to blow up landmarks in New York in 1993. His father believed that his son was happy in America. In 1995, a jury found him guilty of the bombing conspiracy. He lived in New Jersey with six or seven Sudanese immigrants.

  • Pre-entry activities: No evidence of his pre-immigration beliefs have emerged, but he joined a mosque headed by radical cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman after his entry. He is considered a vetting failure purely because he committed his offense within 10 years of entry.

2. Matarawy Mohammed Said Saleh was born in Egypt and entered into a fraudulent marriage to obtain an immigrant visa (legal permanent residency) in 1987 at the age of 31. Saleh appears to have been nothing more than a common criminal. In 1988, he was convicted for selling heroin and served two years in prison. The INS released him on an $8,000 bond in 1990 subject to removal proceedings. In 1993, just before the FBI busted up the plot to blow up landmarks in New York, he agreed to supply stolen cars to the conspirators to transport explosives. The government described his role as “minor,” and he received probation and was deported.

  • Pre-entry activities: No evidence regarding his pre-entry views is publicly available. He is considered a vetting failure purely because he committed his offense within 10 years of entry.


3. Mohammed Salameh was born in Palestine, has Jordanian citizenship, and entered in 1988 on a tourist visa at the age of 20. Salameh overstayed his visa but couldn’t find work and had to ask family members for support. No definitive evidence has emerged about his pre-entry beliefs, but he joined the mosque of radical cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman after he entered. He rented the truck that was used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people. At his sentencing, he complained about U.S. support of Israel.

  • Pre-entry activities: He served a conscript in the Jordanian army. His family has said that he told them that he moved to the states to look for work. They said he became very religious before he left, but avoided radical groups. His family believed his arrest was a Jewish conspiracy

4. Yū Kikumura was born in Japan and entered the United States in March 1988 on a tourist visa at the age of 36. He spent a month in the United States collecting bomb making materials. A New Jersey patrolman pulled him over and found three bombs. He intended to bomb a Navy and Marine recruiting office in New York. Two days after his arrest, the Japanese Red Army, a radical Marxist group, bombed a U.S.O. canteen in Italy in retaliation for the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986. He was convicted of transporting an explosive with the intent to kill.

  • Pre-entry activities: In the 1970s, Kikumura joined the Japanese Red Army. In 1986, the Netherlands arrested him with bomb materials and deported him back to Japan. He used a stolen passport to obtain a tourist visa.


5. Eyad Mahmoud Ismoil was born in Kuwait, has Jordanian citizenship, and entered in 1989 on student visa to study English at Wichita State at the age of 21. He violated the terms of his visa by dropping out of school in 1990 because he couldn’t afford tuition. He moved to Brooklyn to work as a cab driver and then to Dallas to work as a grocery store employee. His coworkers in Dallas described him as “not smart.” He married an American woman, but apparently never filed for a green card. He divorced her in 1993. He traveled from Dallas to New Jersey to drive the van for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people.

  • Pre-entry activities: He was childhood friends with fellow conspirator Ramzi Yousef who told him to join him for the bombing. Yousef was the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind.


6. Billy Alexander was born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents and entered the United States on an unknown status at some point prior to February 1991 when he shot and killed Jean-Claude Olivier. He later killed Fritz Dor. Louis Thermitus, a Haitian American business owner, allegedly hired Alexander to kill Olivier and Dor. Although Thermitus was never prosecuted, both victims were Haitian American radio personalities who urged listeners to boycott Thermitus for his support of Haiti’s military coup.

  • Pre-entry activities: Nothing is known about Alexander’s personal political beliefs, but he appears to have been a common criminal, having killed someone else in a robbery in 1991. He was found guilty of first degree murder. He is considered a vetting failure purely because he committed his offense within 10 years of entry.

7. Glossy Bruce Joseph was born in the Bahamas to a Haitian father and Jamaican mother and entered the United States on an unknown status at some point prior to February 1991 when he drove the car for hired hitman Billy Alexander’s killing of Jean-Claude Olivier, a Haitian American radio personality critical of the military coup in Haiti. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

  • Pre-entry activities: Very little is publicly available about Joseph’s personal views. He was described as a carpenter in the press. He is considered a vetting failure purely because he committed his offense within 10 years of entry.


8. Mir Kansi (aka Qazi/Kasi) was born in Pakistan and entered the United States in February 1991 on a tourist visa at the age of 26. Overstaying his visa, he filed a claim of political asylum in February 1992, claiming to have entered illegally. He received work authorization while his application was pending. His claim was denied. He worked for moving companies in 1991 and 1992 and as a courier in 1992. He had a college degree in English and was independently wealthy, so he didn’t need to work. In January 1993, Qazi killed two CIA employees and fled to Pakistan. In 1997, he was convicted of first-degree murder.

  • Pre-entry activities: He claimed to have come up with the plan for an attack and identified his target in the United States before he entered. He said he was motivated by the U.S.-Israeli treatment of Muslims in the Middle East. Before he arrived, he was involved with a “militant nationalist movement” among Pashtun Pakistanis. In 1989, he participated in an anti-American protest against T.S. Eliot where participants shouted “Death to America,” and Kansi fired a gun into the air.

9. Hani Hanjour was born in Saudi Arabia and first entered the United States in October 1991 on a student visa at the age of 19 to study English in Arizona. He lived in the United States until February 1992. He returned in April 1996 on a tourist visa, but adjusted his status to a student to study English and briefly attend flight school. He left in November 1996. He returned in November 1997 again claiming to study English, but instead attended flight school in Arizona. He stayed until April 1999 when he received his commercial pilot’s license. In 1999, Hanjour went to Afghanistan to meet with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other participants in the 9/11 attacks. In September 2000, Hanjour received another student visa and entered on December 8, 2000 for the final time. Altogether, Hanjour spent just over two years in the United States. As part of the 9/11 attacks, Hanjour flew American Airlines Flight 77 that went into the Pentagon, killing 184 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: His time before his initial 1991 entry is not well documented. He was the son of a wealthy car dealer. He traveled to Afghanistan in the late 1980s to “participate in jihad” but the Soviets withdrew, and so he worked for a relief agency. A Washington Post profile states that he “seemed to have discovered fundamentalist Islam” in Arizona and that it was his brother’s idea to send him to Arizona to stay. The 9/11 Commission Report details contacts with known militants during this time. During his 1997 stay, he expressed anti-Jewish views.

10. Adel Abdel Bary (Bari) was born in Egypt and first entered the United States in 1991 on a multi-entry visa at the age of 31. As a lawyer, he represented El Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian American accused of killing Meir Kahane in New York. Nosair was acquitted, but then later convicted of crimes related to this murder in federal court, and in 1993, Nosair was convicted for planning to bomb locations in New York. He stayed in the United States for about six months. As early as 1994, Bary took over the business affairs for Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an Islamist terrorist organization dedicated to the overthrow of the Egyptian government that in the mid-1990s affiliated itself with al Qaeda. In 1996, EIJ’s leader Ayman al Zawahiri appointed Bary head of the London branch. From 1996 to 1999, Bary served as communication coordinator for the London cell of al Qaeda, funneling messages from bin Laden and Zawahiri to the media and setting up press interviews for them. Egypt sentenced him to death in absentia for a bombing there in 1995. In 1999, Bary was charged as part of the prosecution of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings, though the government stated that there is no evidence “that Bary assisted in the bombings themselves.” He was finally extradited in 2012 and pled guilty in 2014.

  • Pre-entry activities: In Egypt, prior to his 1991 entry, he was arrested in 1982 for sheltering Muntasser Zayat, a critic of the Mubarak regime. The government detained and tortured him without trial on and off from 1982 to 1991. From 1987 to 1991, Bary represented clients who opposed Mubarak. During this time, he became a fundamentalist, burning family photos and influencing his sister to wear a veil and her father a beard.


11. Ramzi Yousef was born in Kuwait to Pakistani parents, has Pakistani citizenship, and entered the United States in September 1992 at the age of 24 on a pending asylum claim. At the U.S. airport, he had no visa, having bribed a Pakistani official to allow him to board the plane, so he claimed asylum and was released pending a hearing. In February 1993, he built and helped plant the bomb for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people. At his sentencing, he said, “I am a terrorist, and I am proud of it.”

  • Pre-entry activities: He traveled with Ahmad Ajaj who was found to have bomb-making instructions in his possession, but Yousef was not connected to him. Yousef was the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Yousef fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s. He trained at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan after the war.

12. Ahmed Ajaj was born in Palestine and first entered the United States in 1991 on an asylum claim at the age of 26, but he left the country to attend a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and returned on a fraudulent Swedish passport in September 1992. After INS found bomb making materials in his luggage, he was arrested and not released despite his claim of asylum. He helped plot the 1993 World Trade Center bombing behind bars, which killed six people. He was briefly released from prison after the attacks and rearrested in March 9, 1993. He was convicted in 1994.

  • Pre-entry activities: He traveled with Ramzi Yousef, a mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing.

13. Mohamad Youssef Hammoud was born in Lebanon and entered the United States in November 1992 at the age of 18 on an asylum claim. He attempted to use fraudulent documents to enter, but when he was detained, he claimed asylum and was released. His asylum claim was denied and ordered deported in 1993, but he appealed the decision. In December 1994, he married a U.S. citizen and applied for permanent residency. His application was denied because the marriage was a sham, and he was ordered deported again in August 1996. He entered into another sham marriage and received conditional permanent residency in July 1998. He entered into various conspiracies to raise money through credit card fraud and sale of contraband cigarettes. He ultimately was arrested in 2000 and convicted of providing material support for a foreign terrorist organization, Hezbollah. He gave $3,500.

  • Pre-entry activities: In his youth, he was a member of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), and the government alleged that he was on a “mission” to raise money for it.


14. Habis Abdulla al Saoub was born in Jordan and entered the United States in 1993 on an immigrant visa (as a legal permanent resident) through marriage to a U.S. citizen at the age of 28. In October 2002, he was indicted for forming a Portland terrorist cell and planning to carry out attacks in the United States. He fled the country and was killed in Pakistan.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, in the 1980s, he fought against the Soviets as a mujahedeen fighter in Afghanistan.


15. Iyman Faris was born in Pakistan and entered the United States in May 1994 on a student visa at the age of 25. Faris never enrolled in school, but in 1995, he married a U.S. citizen and became a legal permanent resident. He worked as a truck driver, but he had a mental breakdown and turned suicidal, trying to jump off a Columbus bridge. His marriage ended in 2000. In 2000, he traveled to Afghanistan where he met Osama bin laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind. In 2003, he was arrested for conspiring to provide al Qaeda with information amount potential targets in the United States, including the Brooklyn Bridge, and for making several purchases for al Qaeda overseas, including sleeping bags and plane tickets. Experts dismissed the plot he considered—using blowtorches to cut the Brooklyn Bridge cables—as absurd. He pled guilty. He also met with Nuradin Abdi to discuss a plot to plant a bomb in a Columbus shopping mall, but the plan was not developed.

  • Pre-entry activities: He maintained a “friendly relationship” with an unidentified al Qaeda leader since the 1980s.


16. Mohammed Abdullah Warsame was born in Somalia, emigrated to Canada as a refugee in 1989, became a Canadian citizen in 1992, and first entered the United States in 1995 on a temporary visa at the age of 22 to marry a Somali legal permanent resident. He applied for a green card immediately in 1995, but did not receive it until 2002 when he relocated permanently to Minneapolis. He visited his wife at least once on a temporary visa in the meantime when she became pregnant, giving birth in 1998. In 2000, he traveled to Afghanistan and attended an al Qaeda training camp, and in 2000, he worked at an al Qaeda guesthouse and clinic. He sent money to the camp in 2001. In January 2004, he was arrested and pled guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization in 2009. He claims to have gone to Afghanistan because he saw it as a Utopian Islamic society and was quickly disillusioned and left.

  • Pre-entry activities: Nothing is publicly available about his pre-entry views.


17. Ali Hassan Abu Kamal was born in Israel, used an Israeli passport, and entered the United States in December 1996 at the age of 69. He spent nearly 50 years teaching English in Gaza. Then he came to the United States in December and in January, he bought a gun using a Florida ID, and in February, he went to the Empire State Building observation deck and shot seven people, killing one. He also killed himself. He carried a letter describing his motives as U.S. mistreatment of Palestinians, but he had also recently lose $500,000. Law enforcement described him as a deranged man working alone. According to his daughter, the Palestinian authority told his family to say that the attack was not politically motivated.

18. Muhammed Aatique was born in Pakistan and entered the United States in 1996 on a student visa at the age of 23 and later adjusted his status to an H-1B high skilled worker. One source has him entering on an H-1B, but every source has him studying at Virginia Tech before going to work requiring a student visa (e.g. “he traveled to the United States to attend graduate school”). At Virginia Tech in 1996, he met the founding member, Young Kwon, of the Virginia Jihad Group which was a paintball club that intended to travel to Pakistan to join a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Lashkar-e-Taib. His participation in the games began in 2001, and his arrest came in 2003. In September 2003, he pled guilty to “preparing for and beginning a military expedition to be carried out from the United States against India” and “discharging a firearm in a crime of violence” during five days at an LET camp in Pakistan. Prosecutors stated that he was “less culpable” for the conspiracy than the others.

  • Pre-entry activities: Nothing is publicly available about his pre-entry views.


19. Nuradin M. Abdi was born in Somalia, first entered the United States in 1995 using a false passport at the age of 23, then returned entering illegally from Canada in 1997. In October 1998, he applied for asylum and received it in January 1999. He later admitted that he falsified every fact in his application. He first planned to travel to Kosovo to help Muslims fight the Serbs, but first attempted to travel to Chechnya to train in 1999 and then to travel to an Ethiopian terrorist training camp in 2000. Neither attempt was successful, but he did try to raise money for Somali extremist. In 2002, he met with Iyman Faris and Christopher Paul to discuss a plot to plant a bomb in a Columbus, Ohio shopping mall. This plot was not developed. In 2003, the FBI arrested him, and in 2004, he pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists by traveling to the Ethiopian training camp.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he arrived in the United States in 1995, he had researched terrorist training camps in Ethiopia online.

20. Fadl Mohammed Maatouk was born in Lebanon and first entered the United States in January 1999 on a tourist visa. He falsified information on his visa application, including his marital status, his intended place of residence, and his employment. In 2001, he married a U.S. citizen and received permanent residency. From 2001 to 2005, he operated a flea market in Jacksonville, and he sold drug paraphernalia and then sent the money to Lebanon. After his arrest for that, it came to light that in May 2003, he allowed his brother to lend his gun to a member of Hezbollah to provide a bodyguard service to a leader of Hezbollah. He also transported camouflaged clothes to Lebanon to give to the member of Hezbollah. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered the United States, he lived with his family in a suburb of Beirut, and he was a university-trained accountant.

21. Yassin Muhiddin Aref was born in Iraq and first entered the United States as a refugee in October 1999 at the age of 29.  In the United States, he owned Little Italy Pizzeria and founded a mosque in Albany. In 2003, his name was found in a notebook next to the word “brother” in a bombed out encampment in Iraq, an area where he was the son of a well-known imam, and in 2004, the FBI targeted him in a sting operation in which he agreed to launder money for a member of his mosque in order to supply missiles for a fictitious operation to assassinate Pakistan’s ambassador in New York. In 2006, a jury found him guilty of money laundering, conspiracy, and attempting to provide material support and resources to a terrorist organization.

  • Pre-entry activities: In Iraq, Aref was an Iraqi Kurd and an imam at a mosque. In 1988, Saddam Hussein’s army destroyed his town, and he finally fled the country for good in 1994 where he registered as a refugee with the United Nations in Syria.

22. Oussama Kassir was born in Lebanon, moved to Sweden in 1984, became a Swedish citizen in 1989, and came to the United States in November 1999 at the age of 33 under the Visa Waiver Program. He resided in Seattle for two months during which time he attempted to start a terrorist training camp. He was furious when he realized that he had been conned into coming by a U.S. resident trying to make money off the “camp.” He left the country and was finally arrested in 2005 in the Czech Republic. He was convicted. He has said he loved Osama bin Laden.

  • Pre-entry activities: In Sweden, he served time for a drug offense, illegal firearms, and assault of a police officer, and he said that he converted to Islam in jail with the help from another Swedish terrorism suspect Kerim Chatty.


23. Moussa Ali Hamdan was born in Lebanon and entered the United States for the first time in (at the latest) 2000 at the age of 28 as a legal permanent resident, naturalizing to become a U.S. citizen in 2005. From 2003 to 2007, he lived at an apartment in New Jersey. In 2007 and 2008, he installed carpet, and he later operated a car dealership. In late 2006, law enforcement discovered that Hamdan was attempting to purchase stolen goods for export and, in late 2007, engaged him in a sting operation. In September, Hamdan introduced the government’s informant to a person who was selling counterfeit dollars to support Hezbollah. In November 2009, he was charged. He fled the country. After his capture, he pleaded guilty to material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization in April 2012.

  • Pre-entry activities: It is possible that he was just a criminal motivated by financial gain, but his court documents are sealed, so it is difficult to reconstruct the details of his involvement.

24. Hammad Riaz Samana was born in Pakistan and first entered the United States in 2000 as a legal permanent resident with his family at the age of 16. In the United States, Samana attended Santa Monica College, worked at Barnes and Noble, and provided Arabic lessons to people at the mosque where he met U.S.-born Muslim convert, Gregory Patterson. In 2004, Kevin James, a U.S.-born convict, recruited Levar Washington in prison to join his radical Islamist group, and once released in November 2004, Washington began to share an apartment with Patterson. Through discussions of the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay, Washington recruited Patterson and Samana (still living with his parents) to James’s group. From May to July 2005, Washington orchestrated a series of gas station robberies to finance planned terrorist attacks against National Guard facilities, the Israeli Consulate, and Jewish synagogues. In 2005, he was charged. Samana was initially declared mentally unfit to stand trial due to his schizophrenia, and for this reason as well as his smaller role in the plot, he received a lighter sentence after pleading guilty.

  • Pre-entry activities: In Pakistan, Samana was raised Muslim, but appears to have suffered from a mental breakdown in the United States that may have resulted in his willingness to be recruited. In 2005, he quit playing sports to focus on his religious studies. Because his court documents are sealed, it is difficult to know the full details.

25. Wassim I. Mazloum was born in Lebanon and first entered the United States in 2000 as a legal permanent resident at the age of 19 with his mother and siblings. He obtained a GED and took engineering courses at the University of Toledo while working at a car lot with his brother. In October 2004, he was recruited into a terrorist cell by U.S.-born Mohammad Zaki Amawi. He participated in firearms training in the expectation of going to fight in Iraq and offered to support the group financially or send money to Iraqi insurgents. In February 2006, Mazloum was indicted and, in 2009, convicted for material support for terrorism and conspiracy to murder persons in another country.

  • Pre-entry activities: In Lebanon, Mazloum’s father abandoned his four children when Mazloum was ten. In the 1990s, he had witnessed Israeli air attacks by U.S.-supplied planes, which “had a powerful impact on him.” Several family members who joined Hezbollah died in these attacks. That could imply a pre-entry radicalization, but Mazloum withdrew from the conspiracy voluntarily in April 2005 and reenrolled in college. He refused to rejoin despite repeated efforts by the government’s informant. The judge found that he “more thoroughly embraced” the conspiracy than the others, but that “just as quickly and as brilliantly as that flame flared up… it was extinguished.”

26. Mohamed Atta was born in Egypt and first entered the United States in June 2000 on tourist visa at the age of 32. He enrolled in a U.S. flight school and sought to change his status to a student. After passing his commercial pilot’s license test, he left the United States in January 2001, having overstayed his visa by a month. He reentered the United States a week later, being admitted for an eight-month stay as a tourist despite stating that he was a student. He left the United States in July 2001 and reentered two weeks later where he was granted another length of stay as a tourist. He spent three weeks outside of the United States in 13 months. As part of the 9/11 attacks, Atta flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center, which killed 2,755 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, he had graduated with a degree in architectural engineering and moved to Hamburg, Germany in 1992. According to the 9/11 Commission, “When Atta arrived in Germany, he appeared religious, but not fanatically so.” He joined a hardline mosque, and by 1997, he stood out “because of his abrasive and increasingly dogmatic personality” and his “anti-Semitic and Anti-American opinions.” By 1998, he grew a beard and began to advocate for violent jihad. He remained as a student in Germany until 1999 when he traveled to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to discuss the hijacking plan. He filmed a martyrdom video before he left for the United States.

27. Nawaf al-Hazmi was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States in January 2000 at the age of 25 on a tourist visa. Hazmi moved to San Diego and worked part-time at a car wash. He attended a mosque with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born al Qaeda operative. He took flight lessons, and in July 2000, he sought to extend his stay. In April 2000, he moved to Fairfax, Virginia where Awlaki had also moved to preach at a mosque. In August 2001, he was added to the INS watchlist. As part of the 9/11 attacks, Hazmi was a hijacker on American Airlines Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon, killing 184 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Prior to his entry, he was raised in Saudi Arabia by a father who had tried to kill him, leaving him with a large scar. In 1993, he traveled to Afghanistan and met al Qaeda members, and in 1995, he fought in Bosnia in defense of Muslims there. In 1997, he returned to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden and fought against the Northern Alliance. In 1999, bin Laden selected him for a suicide mission, and the same year, he met with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to discuss the 9/11 attacks.

28. Ziad Jarrah was born in Lebanon and entered the United States in June 2000 as a tourist at the age of 25. He studied at a Florida flight school, violating his immigration status. He left and reentered on six subsequent occasions, each time as a tourist. As part of the 9/11 Attacks, Jarrah flew United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 40 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before his entry, Jarrah was the son of wealthy, secular Muslim family that sent him to Christian schools. He moved to Germany in 1996 to study. According to the 9/11 Commission, “Far from displaying radical beliefs when he first moved to Germany, he arrived with a reputation for knowing where to find the best discos and beaches in Beirut, and in Greifswald was known to enjoy student parties and drinking beer.” He also was mostly living his girlfriend. By the end of the year, however, he had radicalized, desiring not to leave the world “in a natural way.” In late 1997, he moved to Hamburg where he joined a Islamist mosque and met Mohammed Atta. In 1999, Atta, Jarrah, and others in Hamburg traveled to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who recommended them for the 9/11 plot.

29. Khalid al Mihdhar was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on January 15, 2000. He entered using a passport with an “indicator of possible terrorist affiliation” and traveled with Nawaf al Hazmi, another 9/11 hijacker. As part of the 9/11 attacks, Hazmi helped Hani Hanjour to hijack and fly American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 184 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Mihdhar became an activist Islamist in the early 1990s and fought in Bosnia with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and in 1997, attempted to smuggle arms into the Saudi Arabia for attacks. At the time of his entry, Mihdhar was an al Qaeda operative known U.S. intelligence, which had a copy of his passport. Mindhar was so excited to conduct a U.S. attack that he obtained a U.S. visa before traveling to Afghanistan in 1999 to meet bin Laden.

30. Marwan al Shehhi was born in United Arab Emirates and entered the United States on a tourist visa on May 29, 2001 at the age of 23. Shehhi used a new passport to obtain the visa to hide his travel to Afghanistan, and he was probably not interviewed. In July 2000, he enrolled with Mohamed Atta in flight school, and both sought to change his status to a student. In December 2000, he obtained a commercial pilot license. He then left the country in January and returned a week later. He was admitted despite stating that he was a student obtaining flight school lessons. As part of the 9/11 attacks, Shehhi flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center, killing 2,755 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, Shehhi’s father was a “prayer leader” at the local mosque. In 1995, Shehhi served in the Emirati military and then received a military scholarship to study in Germany in 1996. He prayed five times each day. He started to avoid restaurants that served alcohol, and in 1998, transferred to Hamburg to meet up with Mohamed Atta, another hijacker, who moved into his apartment. In November 1999, he moved to Afghanistan and met with bin Laden where he volunteered for a suicide mission.

31. Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri was born in Qatar, first came to the United States from 1983 at the age of 18 most likely on a student visa, stayed until December 1990, then returned in 2000 probably on a tourist visa at the age of 35. He left and then returned with his family on September 10, 2001 on a student visa. Sometime after his 1983 entry, al-Marri enrolled in college in 1987 and graduated in 1991. During his 2000 entry, he “established a fictitious business using a false name and stolen Social Security number, fraudulently obtaining a number of credit cards and opening several business accounts.” During this time, he corresponded with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about his travels. He explored purchasing various cyanide compounds and sulfuric acid to make cyanide gas and researched locations to conduct an attack. In December 2001, he was arrested. In April 2009, he pleaded guilty to one count of providing material support to a terrorist organization.

  • Pre-entry activities: From 1998 to 2001, al-Marri attended various terrorist training camps. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed recruited him to assist al Qaeda in the United States and instructed him to enter the United States no later than September 10, 2001. He lied about his prior travels to the United States on his visa application.

32. Dhiren Barot (Issa Al-Britani) was born in India, moved to the United Kingdom as a baby, became a UK citizen, and first entered the United States in August 2000 on a student visa at the age of 29. He stayed in the United States until November 2000 and then returned in March 2001 with Qaisar Shaffi conducting surveillance on potential terrorism targets in New York and Washington, D.C. In 2004, he was charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and to provide material support to terrorists. In 2006, he pleaded guilty in the UK for these and other crimes.

  • Pre-entry activities: In the UK in the 1990s, he converted from Hinduism to Islam, and in 1995, he traveled to terrorist training camps in Pakistan. He became a high-ranking al Qaeda operative. In 1998, he served as a “lead instructor” at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.

33. Nadeem Tarmohamed was born in the United Kingdom and first entered the United States on August 17, 2000 at the age of under the Visa Waiver Program. He scouted locations for terrorist attacks in New York and then Washington, D.C. He left in September. He returned again on April 4, 2001 and stayed until April 8. In 2004, he was charged in the United Kingdom where he ultimately pleaded guilty.

  • Tarmohamed entered the United States with Dhiren Barot, an al Qaeda operative


34. Qaisar Shaffi was born in the United Kingdom and first entered the United States on March 11, 2001 under the Visa Waiver Program at the age of 22. During this time, he along with Dhiren Barot, al Qaeda operative, conducted video surveillance of various locations in New York City for terrorist attacks. He became ill and left on April 3, 2001. In 2004, he was charged and became the only Barot associate to refuse a plea deal, claiming that he only came to the United States to seek drugs and because Barot paid for his “vacation.” He was convicted.

  • Pre-entry activities: Barot was a customer of Shaffi at the cell phone shop where he worked. Barot promised to fly him to New York for the al Qaeda mission, and Shaffi agreed.

35. Adnan Babar Mirza was born in Kuwait to Pakistani parents, is a Pakistani national, and came to the United States on a student visa in August 2001 at the age of 24. He moved to Houston to live with his aunt and uncle. He worked for an oil company consolidating data and volunteered at Muslim charities. In November 2001, he met U.S.-born citizens Kobie Diallo Williams and James Coates of one of these charities. In July 2004, a park ranger in Big Bend National Park stopped Williams and Coates for speeding, finding them armed and dressed in “Muslim attire.” He called Border Patrol, and Border Patrol called the FBI. In February 2005, Coates approached the FBI to tell them that he had heard Williams state that he intended to travel to Iraq to fight against the U.S. soldiers. Coates and another government informant organized camping trips in which Mirza, Williams, and Coates used guns in preparation for a trip overseas. Mirza collected payments intended for the Taliban and, in November 2006, was charged with material support for terrorism. He was convicted. The judge considered his charity work and said that he imposed a “more lenient” sentence because he believed that Mirza never wanted to hurt anyone.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before his entry, Mirza moved from Kuwait to Cyprus for college in 1995. He briefly returned to Kuwait with his family until 2000 when he moved to the United States.

36. Mohamud Abdi Yusuf was born in Somalia and immigrated to the United States as a refugee in 2001 at the age of 21. He later received lawful permanent residency, and in 2006, he applied for citizenship but never received an approval, ultimately being denied in 2010. As a result, he never managed to bring his wife to the United States and saw her once in nine years. He originally lived in Kansas City where he worked at a loading dock and a car wash, but moved to St. Louis to work as a cab driver in 2002. In January 2008, he started fundraising for al-Shabaab, which the U.S. then designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in February 2008. In October 2010, he was charged with material support for an FTO. He pleaded guilty in May 2012.

  • Pre-entry activities: Prior to his entry, Yusuf lived in Somalia until age 11. His father died of an illness. In 1991, a mob killed his mother, so he fled to a Kenyan refugee camp where he married a woman. During this time, he met Duane Diriye, another Somali refugee. Diriye and Yusuf stayed in touch, and in 2008, Diriye requested funds for a vehicle to transport al-Shabaab fighters. Yusuf obliged stating that he wanted to support al-Shabaab to cause the most “pain.”

37. Zacarias Moussaoui was born in France and first entered the United States in February 2001 under the Visa Waiver Program. The same month, he illegally enrolled in a flight school in Oklahoma but dropped out. In August, he again enrolled in another flight school in Minneapolis, and the flight school contacted the FBI to report him as suspicious because he had paid in cash, had asked only to learn takeoff and landing of 747s, and said he was only interested in “joy-riding.” On August 16, the FBI and INS arrested Moussaoui for overstaying his status. He later stated that he intended to carry out a 9/11-style plot after the 9/11 attacks and was not a participant in the 9/11 conspiracy, a statement that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed supported. In December 2001, he was indicted for conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism by hijacking and destroying airplanes and in April 2005, he pleaded guilty.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he arrived, he received a master’s degree in international business from a university in London in 1995. His mother said that he radicalized during this period. In 1998, Moussaoui trained in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, and he met with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who, in 2000, told him to go to Malaysia for flight training. He instead worked on terrorism plots of his own, and Mohammed then sent him to America.

38. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was born in Pakistan, first came to the United States from 1983 to December 1986 on a student visa, and then received a tourist visa in July 2001 but never used it. He applied for the 2001 tourist visa under an alias and received it without an interview. He planned the 9/11 attacks. In March 2003, the CIA captured him and transferred him to Guantanamo Bay where he has remained every since.

  • Pre-entry activities: Immediately after leaving the United States in 1986, he joined up with Afghan mujahidin in Pakistan. After receiving military training in Pakistan, he went to Bosnia to fight and support the effort with financial donations in 1992. The same year, Mohammed sent $660 to his nephew Ramzi Yousef’s to help fund Yousef’s plan to bomb the World Trade Center. In 1994, Mohammed helped plan with Yousef a plot to bomb U.S. airlines in Manila, but Yousef was arrested.  In 1996, he met with Osama bin Laden to discuss a plot to hijack airlines in the United States. The same year, the State Department included him in its terrorist watchlist since 1996.

39. Mohammed al-Qahtani (al Kahtani) was born in Saudi Arabia and landed in the United States on a tourist in August 2001 at the age of 26. He flew from Dubai to Orlando where an INS inspection officer denied him entry because he believed he intended to overstay his visa. Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers, was waiting to pick him up at the airport. He returned to Afghanistan where he met up with bin Laden. The U.S. military captured him in the Battle of Tora Bora in 2001. He was sent to Guantanamo Bay where he has remained ever since.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, he met with Osama bin Laden who assigned him to the 9/11 attacks, and he trained at al Qaeda training camps. Bin Laden personally chose him for the attacks.

40. Abdulaziz al-Omari (Umari) was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on June 29, 2001 at the age of 22. He entered in New York using a doctored Saudi passport and with Salem al Hazmi, another 9/11 hijacker. They were likely picked up by Hazmi’s brother Nawaf and went to stay in an apartment in Paterson, New Jersey with Hani Hanjour. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Mohamed Atta hijack American Airlines Flight 11 and fly it into the World Trade Center, killing 2,755 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, he was born in the region of Saudi Arabia that borders Yemen. He studied in Oman and then graduated from Imam University in Yemen whose director was later identified an al Qaeda member. He was described as a “conservative and devoutly religious young man who often served as an imam for his mosque.”  He was married with a daughter. He was believed to have been a student of a radical Saudi cleric Sulayman al Alwan, and he met with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during his time as a security guard in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and was named military trainer of a camp there. Bin Laden personally chose him for the attacks.

41. Wail al Shehri was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on June 8, 2001 at the age of 27. He traveled with Ahmad al Haznawi, another 9/11 hijacker. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Mohamed Atta hijack American Airlines Flight 11 and fly it into the World Trade Center, killing 2,755 victims. He was the brother of fellow hijacker Waleed al Shehri.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, he was born in the region of Saudi Arabia that borders Yemen. He graduated from college in 1999 and became a physical education teacher at a Saudi air base. His father was a wealthy business friend of the father of Osama bin Laden. He was raised in a strict Wahhabi Muslim family, but was not a strict adherent himself, using the Internet, smoking cigarettes, and listening to pop music. He was radicalized at a mosque there, pledging his support to Osama bin Laden in 2000. He then trained in Afghan al Qaeda camps. Before he applied for his tourist visa, he obtained a new passport without a record of his travels to Afghanistan. He filmed a martyrdom video before traveling to the United States. Bin Laden personally chose him for the attacks.

42. Waleed al Shehri was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on April 23, 2001. He entered with Satam al Suqami, another 9/11 hijacker. He traveled with al Suqami to the Bahamas once in May 2001 in an attempt to extend Suqami’s one-month status, but the Bahamas denied them entry. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Mohamed Atta hijack American Airlines Flight 11 and fly it into the World Trade Center, killing 2,755 victims. He was the brother of fellow hijacker Wail al Shehri.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, he was born in the region of Saudi Arabia that borders Yemen. His father was a wealthy business friend of the father of Osama bin Laden. He was a college dropout. He was raised in a strict Wahhabi Muslim family, but was not a strict adherent himself, using the Internet, smoking cigarettes, and listening to pop music. He was radicalized at a mosque there, pledging his support to Osama bin Laden in 2000. He then trained in Afghan al Qaeda camps. Before he applied for his tourist visa, he obtained a new passport without a record of his travels to Afghanistan. Bin Laden personally chose him for the attacks.

43. Satam al Suqami was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on April 23, 2001 at the age of 23. He entered using a passport containing fraudulent travel stamps and traveled with Waleed al Shehri, another 9/11 hijacker. He traveled with al Shehri to the Bahamas once in May 2001 in an attempt to extend Suqami’s one-month status, but the Bahamas denied them entry. He overstayed his status. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Mohamed Atta and three others to hijack American Airlines Flight 11 and fly it into the World Trade Center, killing 2,755 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, he worked as a security guard at a hospital and had a problem with alcohol and possibly drugs. Prior to 1999, he was “unconcerned with religion.” From 1999 to 2001, he traveled to Afghanistan at least twice to meet with al Qaeda leaders. He trained in Khaldan near Kabul, and bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks. 

44. Salem al Hazmi was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on June 29, 2001 at the age of 20. He entered using a passport with an “indicator of possible terrorist affiliation” and traveled with Abdul Aziz al Omari, another 9/11 hijacker. As part of the 9/11 attacks, Hazmi helped Hani Hanjour and three others to hijack and fly American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 184 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: As a teenager, he drank alcohol and committed petty theft, but in late 1999, he stopped drinking and became religious. He went to Afghanistan to al Qaeda camps and volunteered to carry out a suicide attack, and bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks. 

45. Majed Moqed was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on May 2, 2001 at the age of 24. His visa application was incomplete, and he was never interviewed. He traveled with Ahmed al Ghamdi, another 9/11 hijacker. As part of the 9/11 attacks, Moqed helped Hani Hanjour and three others to hijack and fly American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 184 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: He was the son of a village elder, and his desire for jihad was well known locally. In 1999, he dropped out of college and moved to Afghanistan to train in al Qaeda camps. He trained in Khaldan near Kabul, and bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks. 

46. Ahmed al Ghamdi was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on May 2, 2001 at the age of 22. He carried more than $10,000 in cash with him and was traveling with Majed Moqed, another 9/11 hijacker. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Marwan al Shehhi and three others to hijack United Airlines Flight 175 and fly it into the World Trade Center, killing 2,755 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: In the 1990s, he obtained a nursing degree. The CIA described him as a “devout” Muslim who attended regular prayer services. He appears to have hooked up with the other hijackers in 1999. In 1998 or 1999, he traveled to Chechnya where other Islamists were fighting. In 2000, he was in Afghanistan where bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks. 

47. Mohand al Shehri was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on May 28, 2001 at the age of 22. His visa application was incomplete, and his passport—later destroyed—was possibly manipulated. He traveled with Hamza al Ghamdi and Ahmed al Nami, two other 9/11 hijackers. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Marwan al Shehhi and three others to hijack United Airlines Flight 175 and fly it into the World Trade Center, killing 2,755 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, he grew up in the region of Saudi Arabia closest to Yemen. In 1999, he left home claiming to have traveled to Chenya but went to Afghanistan where he volunteered for a suicide mission and where bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks.

48. Fayez Banihammad was born in United Arab Emirates and entered the United States on a tourist visa on June 27, 2001 at the age of 24. He had obtained a new passport to apply for his visa to hide his travel. His visa application was incomplete, and he was not interviewed. He traveled to the United States with Saeed al Ghamdi, and when he arrived, he handed in customs and immigration forms with different names on them, but each form was reviewed by separate inspectors and went unnoticed. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Marwan al Shehhi and three others to hijack United Airlines Flight 175 and fly it into the World Trade Center, killing 2,749 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: In the 1990s, he married and had a child. In 2000, he went to Afghanistan where he volunteered for a suicide mission and where bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks.

49. Hamza al Ghamdi was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on May 28, 2001 at the age of 21. His visa application was incomplete, and he may have used a passport with fraudulent travel stamps associated with al Qaeda.  As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Marwan al Shehhi and three others to hijack United Airlines Flight 175 and fly it into the World Trade Center, killing 2,755 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: The CIA described him as a “devout” Muslim who attended regular prayer services before he entered. He probably came into contact with three other hijackers from his region of Saudi Arabia by 1999 and then traveled to Afghanistan where he volunteered for a suicide mission and where bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks.

50. Ahmed al Nami was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on May 28, 2001 at the age of 24. His first visa application submitted in October 2000 was incomplete, and he may have used a passport with fraudulent travel stamps associated with al Qaeda, but it was approved.  After his application, he reapplied for another visa without using the first and replaced his passport to conceal travel from the INS inspectors at the U.S. airport. He traveled with Hamza al Ghamdi and Mohand al Shehri, two other 9/11 hijackers. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Ziad Jarrah and two others to hijack United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 40 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, he grew up in a region of Saudi Arabia near Yemen. He radicalized at a local mosque in 1999 and dedicated himself to jihad in the spring of 2000. He promptly dropped out of college in the Spring of 2000 to go to Afghanistan where he volunteered for a suicide mission and where bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks.

51. Saeed al Ghamdi was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on June 27, 2001 at the age of 21. His visa application was incomplete, and he was never interviewed. He used a “clean” passport to hide his earlier travels, which may have had fraudulent travel stamp. He traveled to the United States with Fayez Banihammad, another 9/11 hijacker. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Ziad Jarrah and two others to hijack United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 40 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: The CIA described him as a “devout” Muslim who attended regular prayer services. He radicalized at a local mosque in 1999 and dedicated himself to jihad in the spring of 2000.  He promptly dropped out of college and traveled to Chechnya, but in the Spring of 2000 went to Afghanistan where he volunteered for a suicide mission and where bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks.

52. Ahmad al Haznawi was born in Saudi Arabia and entered the United States on a tourist visa on June 8, 2001. His visa application was incomplete, and he was not interviewed. He traveled with Wail al Shehri, another 9/11 hijacker. He may have used a passport with fraudulent travel stamps. As part of the 9/11 attacks, he helped Ziad Jarrah and two others to hijack United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 40 victims.

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, he grew up in the same region in Saudi Arabia as three other hijackers who he appears to have met in 1999. In March 2000, he left Saudi Arabia and went to Afghanistan where he volunteered for a suicide mission and where bin Laden personally chose him for the 9/11 attacks.



53. Richard Reid was born in the United Kingdom boarded a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001 at age 34 without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program using his British passport. When he first attempted to board a flight to Miami, French authorities caused him to miss the flight by questioning him after an airport employee became suspicious when he paid for his ticket in cash without luggage. They ultimately allowed him to board the next day. He attempted to set off an explosive hidden in his shoe, but his perspiration had damped the chemicals to such an extent that it would not light. Other passengers and crew apprehended him.  In October 2002, he plead guilty to eight counts, including attempting to deploy a weapon of mass destruction (8 U.S.C. 2332a).

  • Pre-entry activities: In 1992, Reid converted to Islam in a U.K. prison serving time for theft. In 1997, he associated with Zacarias Moussaoui, a French 9/11 conspirator. In 1998, London Muslims warned him about his extremist ideas. In 1999 and 2000, he traveled to terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and had obtained multiple passports to hide his travels. During this time, he trained with Midhat Mursi, an al Qaeda bomb maker.


54. Hosam Maher Husein Smadi was born in Jordan on June 5, 1990 and entered the United States on a tourist visa in 2007 at the age of 16. He overstayed his visa and moved away from his family in California to Texas. In June 2008, he married a U.S. citizen but apparently never applied for or received a green card. When he arrived in Texas, he told his friends that he had come to America because Jordan was “really strict,” and he smoked marijuana and drank alcohol. His father and friends noticed personality changes about a year before his arrest and said he became more interested in politics. In January 2009, the FBI began tracking his posts on an extremist website where he stated his desire to attack Americans. The FBI targeted him for a sting, and in September 2009, arrested him for attempting to set off a fake bomb in Dallas. He pleaded guilty in March 2010 to attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction (18 U.S.C. 2332a).

  • Pre-entry activities: While in Jordan, his father, a government engineer, sent him to live with a family friend in California. In 2004, at the age of 13 or 14, Jordanian authorities jailed him briefly for “begging and theft.” In 2009, he told undercover FBI agents that he came to the United States to commit terrorism. He had no connections to terrorists or terrorist groups overseas.

55. Jubair Ahmad was born in Pakistan on July 4, 1988 and immigrated in February 2007 at the age of 19 as a legal permanent resident. He received an immigrant visa in October 2006 as a derivative of his father who received a family-based visa after 16 years waiting. He lived in Woodbridge, Virginia with his father, mother, and two brothers and worked as an electrician. In September 2010, he created a propaganda Youtube video at the request of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), the U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that carried out the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008. In the United States, he repeatedly referenced a desire to join them. The FBI identified him and arrested him in September 2011.In December 2011, he pleaded guilty to material support for terrorism (18 U.S.C. 2339B).

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he immigrated, he trained with LET as a teenager in 2004 and attended their religious camps, and was denied the opportunity to complete those courses only because he was “too young and skinny.”

56. Abdinasir Mohamud Ibrahim was born in Somalia in 1975 and entered the United States as a refugee in 2007 the age of 36. In 2007, he sent $100 to his friend (“Hamza”) who was a member of al-Shabaab said he needed it to support his wife. In 2009, he received permanent residency, and in 2012, he applied for naturalization, but did not receive it. In February 2014, he was arrested to material support for a foreign terrorist organization and immigration fraud. In July 2014, he pleaded guilty.

  • Pre-entry activities: In his visa application, he fraudulently claimed that he was persecuted as a member of the minority Awer clan in Somalia when, in fact, he was a member of the majority Hawiya clan that was persecuting the other clans. His family was “famous,” and his father worked for the Somali government. He was related to known Somali terrorists, including the former leader of al-Shabaab. In 1993, he had to flee Mogadishu due to U.S. airstrikes, and in 1994, he went to Kenya. In order to gain admission to the refugee camp, he lied about his clan affiliation. He befriended Hamza since 1996, and in about 2006, Hamza joined al Shabaab. Almost immediately after Ibrahim’s arrival in the United States in 2007, Hamza asked him for support.

57. Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed was born in Kuwait in 1982 to Egyptian parents and entered in January 2007 at the age of 24 on a student visa. He “reflected a virulent anti-American attitude on repeated occasions” throughout his time in the United States. His landlady reported that he expressed hatred for “stupid Americans” and U.S. law. In August 2007, he uploaded a video to Youtube showing how to deconstruct a remote control car to create a device to detonate a bomb. He was arrested in August 2007 during a traffic stop by South Carolina police. He had materials to make a bomb in his trunk and intended to produce videos depicting how to attach bombs to remote controlled cars. He had attempted to purchase a .22 rifle from Walmart but was denied because he had no evidence of permanent residency. He pleaded guilty to material support for terrorists (18 U.S.C. 2339A). At sentencing, the government stated that he “used his admission to the United States in order to focus his attention on gathering information about explosives and acquiring components in this country to construct explosives to cause harm within this country.”

  • Pre-entry activities: On his visa application, he admitted to having been “arrested or convicted”—an incident later identified to be an arrest in 2003 in Egypt when he was held in custody for four months supposedly on “terrorism-related charges.” His laptop contained dozens of violent images and statements against the United States. He had admitted to firing guns overseas. The government said, “We know little of the defendant’s contacts with law enforcement prior to his entry into the United States other than what he has reported.”


58. Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari was born in Saudi Arabia in April 1990 and entered the United States in September 2008 at the age of 18 on a student visa. He attended an English as a second language program from October 2008 to August 2009 and then attended Texas Tech University from August 2009 to January 2011 majoring in chemical engineering. He then moved to South Plains College. In March 2010, Aldawsari posted a blog post stating that he wanted “martyrdom” and asked God to “make Jihad easy for me.” In December 2010, he ordered 30 liters of nitric acid and three gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid from a chemical company, which reported the suspicious purchase to the FBI. He researched how to construct bombs and locations to target, including hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants. He considered using a baby doll to conceal the bomb. In 2011, the FBI arrested him, and he was convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction (8 U.S.C. 2332a).

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, Aldawsari received a scholarship to study in the United States from a Saudi company. He wrote in his journal that “I excelled in my studies in high school in order to take advantage of the opportunity for a scholarship in America… providing me with the support I need for Jihad. And now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives, and continuous planning to target Americans, it is time for jihad.” He said that 9/11 inspired him.

59. Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab was born in Nigeria in 1986 and entered the United States on a multi-entry tourist visa in August 2008. In 2004, he also received a U.S. visa, but it’s unclear if he used it. In 2008, he attended a two-week Islamic seminar in Houston and then left the country. In May 2009, Britain denied him a visa to study at a fictitious university and placed him on watch list, but did not tell any U.S. agency. In October 2009, he travelled to Yemen supposedly to study, but instead, he dropped out of school, overstayed his student visa, and met with Anwar al-Awlaki, a major al-Qaeda leader, who helped him find a bomb. In November 2009, father reported his son as a suspected extremist to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, and the State Department watchlisted him, but another intelligence agency told it not to revoke his visa because they thought he would lead them to a larger conspiracy. On December 25, 2009, he boarded a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit and proceeded to attempt to light an explosive hidden in his underwear, but it failed to ignite, and he was apprehended. In October 2011, he pleaded guilty to all charges.

  • Pre-entry activities: His father who reported him is a Nigerian banker, one of the wealthiest men in Africa. As a teenager in 2001, he defended 9/11 and the Taliban. In 2005, he attended lectures from Awlaki in person while studying Arabic in Yemen. From 2005 to 2008, he attended college in London and earned a master’s degree. During this time, he routinely posted musing online under pseudonym about jihad, and he was in conversations with “known extremists” in London. When he applied for his U.S. visa in London in 2008, the embassy found “no derogatory information.”


60. Waad Ramadan Alwan was born in Iraq in 1979 and immigrated to Kentucky as a refugee in April 2009 at the age of 30. In 2009, the FBI investigated him due to an “intelligence tip” and reran his fingerprints, discovering that the Defense Department entered them into the Iraqi fingerprint database after U.S. soldiers found them on an unexploded IED in 2005. In 2009, the FBI targeted Alwan and another Iraqi Mohanad Hammadi with a sting operation in which he agreed to send money and weapons to Iraqi insurgents. The FBI then arrested Alwan. He pleaded guilty to, among other things, acquiring missile systems designed to destroy aircraft and using a weapon of mass destruction, international.

  • Pre-entry activities: From 2003 to 2006, Alwan participated in the insurgency in Iraq. The Iraqi forces had arrested Alwan in 2006 and confessed on video to being an insurgent. He said that he had conducted hundreds of IED attacks. In 2007, he fled to Syria.

61. Mohanad Shareef Hammadi was born in Iraq in 1989 and entered the United States in July 2009 as a refugee through a UN referral at the age of 20. He originally lived in Nevada but then moved to Kentucky to work at Perdue plant. He adjusted to permanent residency in December 2011. In January 2011, Waad Alwan who also lived in Kentucky recruited Hammadi to aid him in smuggling money and weapons from the United States to Iraq as part of an FBI sting operation. Hammadi contributed money to the purchase of weapons that he believed would go to terrorist in Iraq, and during conversations with the FBI informant, he stated a desire to conduct attacks inside the United States, including against an army captain. In 2011, the FBI arrested him, and he pleaded guilty to material support for a terrorist organization (18 U.S.C. 2339B).

  • Pre-entry activities: In Iraq, Hammadi was an insurgent who had placed roadside bombs. He was arrested in Iraq, bribed his way out of jail, and then fled the country to Syria, receiving refugee status from the United States.

62. Fazliddin Kurbanov was born in Uzbekistan in 1982 and entered the United States as a refugee in 2009 at the age of 27. He came with spouse and children and lived in Idaho, working as a truck driver. In early 2012, he wrote online of his support for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a foreign terrorist organization.  Starting in July 2012, he conspired to send software and money to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a foreign terrorist organization. His communications revealed that he knew many people in common with his IMU contacts, including schools and neighborhoods, and that he had sought the overthrow of the Uzbek government. He bought bullets to acquire gunpowder to build an explosive for U.S. targets and made instructional videos on how to build bombs. In May 2013, the FBI arrested him, and a jury convicted him of providing material support for a designated foreign terrorist organization (18 U.S.C. 2339B).

  • Pre-entry activities: Before he entered, his parents and sister converted to Christianity in Uzbekistan, which resulted in persecution. He fled the country with them, receiving refugee status by virtue of his relationship to them. During his time in the United States, he said that 9/11 “was great then!” He also claimed that he radicalized in response to a rape of a Muslim girl by a U.S. soldier, the only such case to make headlines occurred in 2006 in Iraq. The prosecutions occurred from 2006 to May 2009, the year that Kurbanov entered. Not much else is available on his pre-entry activities, but his various contacts with IMU after entry suggests pre-entry contacts.


63. Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis was born in Bangladesh in 1991 and entered the United States in January 2012 on a student visa at the age of 20. He went to Southeast Missouri State University but flunked out in one semester and moved to Albany, New York to live with his uncle and work. He then moved to Queens, New York. After seeking out help online with a plot to attack the United States in July 2012, he encountered an undercover FBI agent who asked him about his plans. The agent agreed to help him obtain materials for a bomb, and Nafis assembled the fake materials and attempted to detonate them in front of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. In October 2012, the FBI arrested him, and he pleaded guilty to attempting use a weapon of mass destruction.

  • Pre-entry activities: Nafis is the son of a banker in Bangladesh. He said he came with the intent of carrying out an attack, stating that “jihad” is the only reason other than preaching to travel to America—something he now contests—but he still admits that in October 2011, just months before he entered, he began studying al Qaeda teachings after the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. He specifically read Awlaki’s “44 Ways of Supporting Jihad.”


64. Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan was born in Sudan in 1990 and entered the United States as a legal permanent resident on June 1, 2012 at the age of 22. His mother who had lived in the United States since 2009 sponsored him for a green card. She died soon after his arrival. While in Virginia, Elhassan attended Northern Virginia Community College and worked as a cab driver and at Starbucks. In the summer of 2014, he started a friendship with an ISIS supporter. At one point, he expressed a desire to be a sleeper cell. In January 2016, he drove this friend in his cab to the airport so that he could fly to Jordan and join ISIS. In May 2016, the FBI arrested him, and he pleaded guilty to material support for a terrorist organization (18 U.S.C. 2339B).

  • Pre-entry activities: Growing up, his father was a goldsmith. In 1999, he moved with his family to Egypt. The government concluded that he “was radicalized towards violent jihad either before he arrived or shortly after arriving in the United States,” but on Facebook in 2013, Elhassan stated that in 2009, he “wanted to work for Sami Osmacak,” an U.S.-based extremist convicted of a terrorism offense in 2014.


Tashfeen Malik, born in Pakistan in 1986, immigrated to California on a K-1 temporary visa for spouses and fiancés in July 2014 at the age of 28 and then became a lawful permanent resident a year later. Syed Rizwan Farook, a U.S. citizen, had married her the year before. She gave birth to a child in the United States in the spring of 2015. On December 2, 2015, she and Farook drove to his workplace in San Bernardino, California, shooting and killing 14 people. Later that day, police killed both of them in a shootout.

  • Pre-entry activities: Malik lived in Saudi Arabia for most of her life, but attended college in Pakistan from 2007 to 2014. In 2013, after meeting her online, U.S.-born citizen Syed Rizwan Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet her in person, and they were married a year later in Saudi Arabia. As far back as 2012, she sent private Facebook messages to Pakistani friends expressing support for ISIS. She also exchanged private messages with Farook about their mutual support for terrorism. Farook considered terrorist attacks before meeting Malik as well. Passport stamps were submitted as proof that the couple met in 2013 in Saudi Arabia, and while the Malik’s exit date was illegible, the administration insisted that Saudi Arabia confirmed that she was in the country at the same time with Farook. Despite claims that she submitted a false address, the State Department determined that she was truthful. The administration stated that she met “all the requirements” to receive a visa, and “background checks did not reveal any derogatory information.”


“Vague laws invite arbitrary power.”

That’s the opening line and general theme of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s concurring opinion in Sessions v. Dimaya, announced today. In this case, Justice Gorsuch joined the Court’s four “liberals” in a 5-4 decision holding unconstitutional a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which renders deportable any alien convicted of an “aggravated felony.” This statutory phrase is defined to include a “crime of violence,” which itself is defined to include both crimes where use or threat of force is an element, as well as “any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” It was this last provision – the “residual clause” of the statute – that was at issue in the case. The majority held that this abstract definition was “impermissibly vague,” and thus a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

In his separate opinion, Justice Gorsuch gave a detailed analysis of the history and legal foundations of the void-for-vagueness doctrine (largely in response to Justice Thomas, who questioned the propriety of this constitutional doctrine both here and in a similar prior case, Johnson v. United States). His concurrence argues that courts must review and strike down unconstitutionally vague statutes, not just to ensure fair notice to potential defendants, but also to enforce the separation of powers between the branches of government:

Under the Constitution, the adoption of new laws restricting liberty is supposed to be a hard business, the product of an open and public debate among a large and diverse number of elected representatives. Allowing the legislature to hand off the job of lawmaking risks substituting this design for one where legislation is made easy, with a mere handful of unelected judges and prosecutors free to “condem[n] all that [they] personally disapprove and for no better reason than [they] disapprove it.”

Justice Gorsuch also made clear that subjecting vague statutes to meaningful judicial review is equally important in civil cases, where penalties are often at least as harsh as they are under the criminal law:

[I]f the severity of the consequences counts when deciding the standard of review, shouldn’t we also take account of the fact that today’s civil laws regularly impose penalties far more severe than those found in many criminal statutes? Ours is a world filled with more and more civil laws bearing more and more extravagant punishments. Today’s “civil” penalties include confiscatory rather than compensatory fines, forfeiture provisions that allow homes to be taken, remedies that strip persons of their professional licenses and livelihoods, and the power to commit persons against their will indefinitely. Some of these penalties are routinely imposed and are routinely graver than those associated with misdemeanor crimes—and often harsher than the punishment for felonies.

This analysis obviously has implications reaching far beyond the immigration context, and is encouraging for those concerned with overcriminalization and arbitrary law enforcement in general. Justice Gorsuch correctly notes that “[p]erhaps the most basic of due process’s customary protections is the demand of fair notice.” But today, we have so many criminal laws that it’s impossible to even count them all: at the federal level alone, we estimate that there are about 4500 criminal statutes, and around 300,000 regulatory crimes – many of which do not involve inherently wrongful conduct and lack any “mens rea” requirement (that is, you can be found guilty even if you had no idea you were acting unlawfully). Who could possibly claim that such a system gives the ordinary citizen “fair notice” of the conduct for which they can be punished?

This degree of overcriminalization also places enormous unchecked power in the hands of law enforcement and prosecutors. As Justice Gorsuch recognized, vague and expansive laws “invite the exercise of arbitrary power … by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up.” The staggering breadth of substantive criminalization today means that almost everyone is a criminal, whether they know it or not. If police and prosecutors are inclined to go after you, there’s almost certainly something they can find – whether or not that conduct is genuinely wrongful or harmful.

On the whole, Justice Gorsuch’s opinion in this case is an encouraging sign that he’s aware of and attuned to this set of concerns. Hopefully the newest member of the Court will continue to apply this level of exacting review to vague and arbitrary statutes across the board.

Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, a group that meets every 20 years to recommend changes to Florida’s state constitution, yesterday rejected a proposal to add mandatory E-Verify to the ballot next November.  The American Business Immigration Coalition and Immigration Partnership & Coalition Fund led the fight against the proposal (full disclosure: those groups used Cato’s research in their efforts to stop E-Verify and I did have contact with them during the Florida debate).  The most convincing arguments against E-Verify were those that highlighted its inaccuracies, potential damage to the economy, and that it would not even effectively restrict illegal immigrant access to employment

Just to recap, E-Verify is a federal electronic eligibility for employment verification system whereby employers are supposed to check the identities of new hires against government databases to guarantee that they are legally eligible to work.  Four states have mandated E-Verify for all new hires, several other states have mandated it for some hires, and the federal government requires it for some occupations. 

Democrats and Republicans have both embraced E-Verify for different reasons in recent years.  Republicans did so because they believe that it is a useful enforcement mechanism and Democrats because they believe that they can trade it for a more generous legalization or other reforms to the legal immigration system.  Indeed, increasingly bitter partisan disagreements over immigration policy have not affected support for E-Verify.  Perhaps they should. 

There are many good reasons for Democrats to oppose E-Verify nationally and on the state level.  The first is that E-Verify is an immigration enforcement tool that disproportionately returns incorrect results for legal immigrants, Hispanic Americans, and those who have hyphenated last names (most likely to be women).  An incorrect result can temporarily bar a worker from working or, if the proper legal procedures aren’t followed, push the worker afflicted into long-term unemployment.  Democrats increasingly argue that they represent those three groups so they have political incentives to remove regulatory barriers that keep them from gaining employment.

The second reason is that a nationwide E-Verify mandate could disproportionately harm employment and communities in areas controlled by the Democratic Party.  Over half of all illegal immigrants and their American families live in the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the United States that are near-unanimously controlled by Democrats.  About 37 percent of all illegal immigrants and their American families live in the four largest Democratic states of California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.  Even if E-Verify doesn’t harm employment in those areas, it does raise the cost of employment.

Third, Democrats should come out against E-Verify to, at a minimum, get more concessions from Republicans for expanding legal immigration or expanding any future legalization.  President Obama’s tactic of rhetorically embracing E-Verify, or at least the idea of it, did not get restrictionist Republicans to concede any policy points so Democrats should try the opposite approach and oppose it until the other side gives something up.

Ideologically, conservatives and Republicans also have many good reasons to oppose E-Verify.  First, Americans should not have to ask the government for permission to work.  Second, E-Verify is an expensive government regulation that fails to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants and the federal government should not force businesses to enforce its own laws.  Third, Democrats will eventually figure out that they can use E-Verify for their own purposes (such as creating a backdoor gun registry) and Republicans can only prevent the perversion of the system for those purposes by opposing the continued existence of the program in the first place.

If state governments rescind E-Verify mandates or the federal government ever refuses to reauthorize it then both sides can plausibly claim a victory.  Democrats can say that they helped protect their constituents, such as the American family members of illegal immigrants, from an unreasonable amount of immigration enforcement and Republicans can argue that they removed a government regulation that would eventually be turned against them.           

Congress has to reauthorize E-Verify every few years and most of the time there is little debate over the wisdom of the program.  Next time it comes up for a reauthorization vote, Democrats and Republicans both have many reasons to vote against reauthorizing the program or, at a minimum, to ask more questions about it rather than applying a rubber stamp. 


Today you are supposed to settle up with the IRS on your 2017 taxes. One would think that Tax Day was a painful, hated day for Americans. But the IRS commissioner recently noted that about 80 percent of households receive refunds upon filing, rather than having to make a further payment.

The predominance of refunds is a problem. For one thing, Tax Day has become more like Christmas with the receipt of gifts from Uncle Sam, rather than a day of sober reflection about the costs of government. Those costs are obscured under the income tax by employer withholding and Tax Day refunds. (I discuss other ways that politicians hide costs here).

Another problem with widespread refunds is that they make the system more vulnerable to cyber criminals. With 112 million people a year receiving an average IRS refund of $2,900, the tax system is a juicy target for scammers. One growing problem is that criminals are hacking tax preparation firms to access client data, then submitting fake returns with large refunds, and then finally convincing victims to give them the cash.

Vast IRS data collection on just about every adult in the nation has created major privacy and cybercrime vulnerabilities. Michael Hatfield of the University of Washington has examined some of the risks, including extensive refunds.

The refund problem has been exacerbated by the growth in refundable tax credits—mainly the earned income tax credit and child tax credit—which provide more than $80 billion a year in subsidies to tens of millions of people. These programs are rife with abuse, and should be scaled back or eliminated.

Another reform would be for the IRS to change its guidance for employer withholding to reduce the amounts deducted from worker paychecks. If more filers had to pay additional taxes in April, the system would be less vulnerable to scams and more people would be reminded that government spending ultimately comes out of their wallets.

Tomorrow is Tax Day, which is the deadline for you to mail or e-file your 1040 to the IRS.

We should say thanks on Tax Day, but not to the federal politicians who impose $1.6 trillion of income taxes on us and spend that treasure on low-value, damaging, and pork-barrel programs.

Rather, we should thank the entrepreneurs and other high earners who work hard, create jobs, invent new industries, and make a lot of money doing so. Those folks bear most of the costs of all that federal spending.

The harder you work and more value you add, the more the government wallops you under the income tax. The more benefits you generate for society through the marketplace, the larger the share of your earnings the government confiscates.

The chart shows that the top-earning 1 percent of households paid 39 percent of all individual income taxes in 2015, while the top 10 percent paid 71 percent. The data is here. Those shares have risen over time, and the new tax law exacerbates the upward skew in burdens.

The data for 2015 also show that average federal income taxes paid as a share of income for the top 1 percent of households was 27 percent, while the average for the other 99 percent of households was 11 percent. 

Some people call this “progressive,” but to me it is unproductive and discriminatory. It also weakens political responsibility when the costs of government are borne so narrowly.

So on Tax Day, we should ponder the huge cost of government, while also considering whether it is healthy for democracy when such a small group carries most of the load.

The Boston Globe reports Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is crafting a bill that would prevent the federal government from interfering with states that have voted to legalize cannabis for recreational or medicinal purposes. The Senator is busy recruiting several co-sponsors for the bill, and he has received assurances from President Trump that he would sign such a bill into law.

This would be a step in the right direction and would alleviate concerns in many states that the Department of Justice, under new guidance from Attorney General Sessions, might enforce federal marijuana prohibition.

Unfortunately, as long as the Drug Enforcement Administration continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, quality clinical research on the potential medical applications of cannabis will remain significantly inhibited. By definition, a Schedule 1 drug has “no currently accepted medical treatment use.” Recent studies have shown that chronic pain patients have been able to reduce their opioid dosage and consumption by adding cannabis to their pain management regimen. A study of Medicare Part D patients from the University of Georgia published in JAMA earlier this month demonstrated this effect in states where medicinal marijuana has been legal. Another study published the same week from the University of Kentucky showed this effect was even greater in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. And another recent study from the Minnesota Department of Health earlier this year found 63 percent of patients taking medical marijuana for their chronic pain were able to reduce or eliminate their opioid use within 6 months.

But this is old news. Studies from the University of Michigan in 2016 and from the University of California in 2017 also had similar findings. And researchers in Greece reported in 2012 that cannabidiol in marijuana “interferes with brain reward mechanisms responsible for the expression of the acute reinforcing properties of opioids” and might potentially be useful in medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction. Researchers at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine point to this potential as well. 

While it is hoped that Senator Gardner succeeds in getting legislation to the President’s desk for his signature that would allow states to go their own way on the issue, it would be even better for Congress or the President to go a step further and put an end to the misguided and unjustifiable classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. In any event, one hopes this is the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition. 


In a recent letter to the Trump administration, leading congressional Democrats ask the administration not to allow protections for enrollees in short-term health plans.

Yes, you read that right. Dated April 12, the letter comes from Sens. Patty Murray (WA) and Ron Wyden (OR), as well as Reps. Frank Pallone (NJ), Bobby Scott (VA), and Richard Neal (MA), each the top Democrat on a different congressional committee with jurisdiction over health care. They ask the administration to withdraw in its entirety a proposed rule that, if implemented, would offer significant protections to enrollees in so-called “short-term limited duration plans.”

The administration has proposed lengthening the maximum term for such plans from 3 months to 12 months, which had been the limit for nearly two decades before the Obama administration shortened it. The administration has also asked for public comments (due April 23) on whether it should allow insurers to offer short-term plans with “renewal guarantees”—a consumer protection that allows enrollees who develop expensive illnesses to continue paying low, healthy-person premiums.

The letter asks the administration to “withdraw the proposed rule in its entirety,” which would block those consumer protections. These Democrats literally want to prevent short-term plans from giving consumers the peace of mind from knowing they will be covered for an entire year. Worse, these Democrats want to prohibit short-term plans from offering a consumer protection that protects the sick from premium spikes. 

The reason for this animosity toward short-term plans is rather clear: ObamaCare supporters don’t want the competition. Federal law exempts “short-term limited duration plans” from ObamaCare and other federal health-insurance regulations. Short-term plans free consumers to purchase only the coverage they want, rather than have ObamaCare force them to buy coverage they don’t want, including coverage for things they may find morally repugnant. ObamaCare supporters do not want consumers to have that freedom, because when consumers leave ObamaCare coverage for short-term plans, ObamaCare premiums will reflect more and more of the cost of that law.

It is the height of irony for Democrats to call consumer-oriented short-term plans “junk plans” when ObamaCare is making coverage worse for the sick. One study found ObamaCare’s preexisting-conditions provisions penalize insurers $6,000 per opioid addict they enroll—so whichever health plan offers the best coverage pays the most penalties—and that ObamaCare is making coverage for opioid addiction and other ailments worse and worse as a result. At the same time, the law is causing premiums to rise so rapidly they double every few years. The only “junk” plans here are ObamaCare’s.

Expanding short-term health-insurance plans would give consumers the freedom to vote with their feet. Democrats don’t want consumers to have that freedom, because they know what the outcome of that vote will be. ObamaCare would continue to crumble, and Democrats would have to work with Republicans to replace it. The letter from Murray, Wyden, Pallone, Scott, and Neal provides all the more reason for the Trump administration to allow short-term plans to offer renewal guarantees.

The Chinese tech giant Alibaba recently invested $600 million in a start-up that specializes in facial and object recognition. Thanks to the investment the start-up, SenseTime, is now the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence start-up. Although such technology undoubtedly has potential when it comes to picking up your morning coffee and easing congestion at metro ticket lines, it has been making news in China because it is playing an increasingly prevalent role in that country’s growing surveillance state. While the Chinese are leaders in surveillance technology innovation, we should keep in mind that facial recognition in the U.S. also poses a unique and significant threat to privacy, and it’s a threat that is not being adequately addressed.

Facial recognition fits in the family tree of biometric investigatory technologies, which determine identity via analysis of unique biological and physical traits. Many are familiar to anyone who watches CSI shows or other fictional portrayals of law enforcement: fingerprint and DNA analysis are a couple of examples.

If law enforcement has access to your fingerprints it’s likely because you volunteered them as part of a job requirement, you’re an immigrant, they were recorded after you were arrested, or they were collected at a crime scene. About 40 percent of fingerprints in the FBI’s fingerprint database are not related to arrests or forensic investigations. The FBI’s DNA database only includes DNA related to criminal arrests or forensic investigations.

Unlike databases for fingerprints and DNA, one of the FBI’s facial recognition services allows agents to search through databases that mostly include information related to law-abiding Americans, with only 8 percent of the facial images in the network being associated with criminal or forensic investigations. This is in part thanks to the fact that the FBI has access to drivers license photos from at least 16 states as well as passport photos from the State Department. All told, this Facial Analysis Comparison and Evaluation services allows the FBI to access more than 411 million facial images. A Georgetown study on facial recognition estimates that about half of American adults can be found in a law enforcement facial recognition network.

This is especially concerning because facial recognition can be used to conduct surveillance. It’s already being used for the purpose in China, and here in the U.S. the law enforcement community seems poised to spread the use of facial recognition without sufficient limitations in place.

At the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been especially keen to use facial recognition, where the technology is sought for small border drones and used to verify airport travelers’ identities. The use of facial recognition at airports is especially controversial because Congress never authorized DHS to collect and analyze American citizens’ facial images. Nevertheless, DHS is subjecting American citizens to face scanning at select airports across the country.  

While hardly ubiquitous among states and local law enforcement, facial recognition looks set to become a common feature of policing. Body cameras outfitted with real-time facial recognition capability are set for deployment this fall, and some police departments, such as the New York City Police Department, already use facial recognition tools to review surveillance footage. The Los Angeles Police Department also has a history of using facial recognition tools.

Police officers with real-time facial recognition capability will dramatically change law enforcement, especially if their facial recognition tools are linked to databases that are mostly made up of law-abiding Americans’ face images.

Even if facial recognition on police body cameras was only able to identify people with outstanding warrants there would still be issues. In 2015, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division issued its report on the Ferguson, Missouri, police department. The report noted that police officers in Ferguson were regularly cracking down on minor infractions, putting many residents in dire financial straits.

Ferguson is hardly the only city city where warrants are issued for failing to pay fees. A 2014 NPR report on unpaid court fees and fines noted that many of New York City’s 1.2 million outstanding warrants were for unpaid court fines and fees. The same NPR article reported that in 2011 courts in Philadelphia sent bills to about one in five of the city’s residents.

Police pursuing these fees can lead to the worsening of police-community relations, as  shown by the following anecdote from the DOJ Ferguson report, which its authors state reflected the treatment many African Americans “have come to expect from Ferguson police.”

An African-American man recounted to us an experience he had while sitting at a bus stop near Canfield Drive. According to the man, an FPD patrol car abruptly pulled up in front of him. The officer inside, a patrol lieutenant, rolled down his window and addressed the man:

Lieutenant: Get over here.

Bus Patron: Me?

Lieutenant: Get the f*** over here. Yeah, you.

Bus Patron: Why? What did I do?

Lieutenant: Give me your ID.

Bus Patron: Why?

Lieutenant: Stop being a smart ass and give me your ID.

The lieutenant ran the man’s name for warrants. Finding none, he returned the ID and said, “get the hell out of my face.”

Had the police officer been wearing a body camera with real-time facial recognition capability he would perhaps have passed this man by, but other residents with outstanding warrants for minor infractions or small fines would have to fear a similarly unprofessional and confrontational encounter. It doesn’t take a great imagination to speculate about how disastrous real-time police body cameras would be for police-community relations in a city where a sizable portion of the population have outstanding fines or warrants for non-violent and non-property crimes.

Lawmakers could propose a policy of linking police body cameras with real-time facial recognition capability to databases that only include suspects wanted for violent or property crimes. However, this is a slippery slope that we should avoid altogether.

Such a policy would quickly become target for amendment. In the wake of a sex offense policymakers who backed this policy would eventually be asked, “Why didn’t the database include the sex offender registry?” In some jurisdictions lawmakers would face pressure to include vast and error-prone gang databases in real-time facial recognition networks. Once a facial recognition database is built there will be continued pressure from lawmakers law enforcement officials for more images to be added.

Facial recognition poses a unique threat to law-abiding American citizens, millions of whom are in facial recognition networks merely because they drive. Lawmakers can prevent increased risk of surveillance by forbidding real-time facial recognition on police body cameras. With such devices, police won’t need a “Papers, please” law to identify citizens going about their business; our faces will be our papers.


The Tax Policy Center (TPC) has released a new analysis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December. The analysis examines the distributional effects of the individual income tax changes separately from the corporate and estate tax changes. 

In the abstract of the new report, TPC suggests that high earners got the best deal. They say, “The individual income tax cuts as a percentage of after-tax income will be largest for high-income households.”

In the table, I have presented TPC’s new data for 2018 in a different way. The table shows the average impact for households within each income quintile, as well as the top 1 percent.

Columns 3 and 5 in the table show that lower- and middle-income groups received the largest relative individual income tax cuts from the GOP law. They received the largest percentage cuts in their taxes.

Let’s go through the columns …

Column 1 shows that higher-income groups received larger percentage point cuts in their average tax rates (taxes as a percent of income). This is one of the (problematic) measures that TPC presents in its report.

Column 2 shows TPC estimates for total prior law federal taxes as a percent of income. This includes individual income, corporate, payroll, excise, and estate taxes. By “prior law,” I mean taxes that people would have paid in 2018 without the GOP cuts.

Column 3 is column 1 divided by column 2. It is individual income tax cuts as a percent of total prior law taxes. The tax cuts are generally smaller for higher income groups. The top 1 percent received the smallest percentage tax cuts.

Column 4 shows TPC estimates of prior law individual income taxes as a percent of income. The bottom two quintiles are less than zero because, on net, those groups do not pay any income tax. Indeed, they receive refundable credits, or spending subsidies from the government.

Column 5 is column 1 divided by column 4. It is individual income tax cuts as a percent of prior law individual income taxes. In my view, this is the best and fairest measure of the tax cut’s distributional effect.

The bottom two quintiles are “n/a” because those folks, on net, do not pay any individual income taxes. Those two groups will receive larger refundable credits (subsidies) under the GOP law.

Looking at column 5, by far the largest percentage tax cuts go to the middle class. The middle quintile received a huge 31.6 percent income tax cut, which is three times the 10.6 percent cut received by the top quintile. The top 1 percent received a much smaller cut of 6 percent.

These results mean that the GOP’s individual income tax cuts made the income tax system more “progressive,” with higher earners paying a larger share of the overall burden. At the same time, households with lower incomes will receive larger spending subsidies (refundable credits) from the government. That was the wrong direction to go, but it is a reality that is still being underreported in the media.

In the long run, none of this may matter. The individual tax cuts are scheduled to expire after 2025, and lawmakers are running up such huge deficits that there will be pressure to let the tax changes lapse at that time.

Prior analyses of the distributional effects of the tax reform are here and here.

Agencies use informal guidance documents in lieu of formal regulation to clarify and interpret uncertainties in existing law and enforcement. While there are many legitimate reasons they might want to do that, such forms of subregulatory guidance or “stealth regulation” can also offer a tempting way to extend an agency’s power and authority into new areas, or ban private actions that hadn’t been banned before – all without going through the notice and comment process required by regulation, with its protections for regulated parties.

Fair? Lawful? The Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has lately sought to bring agency use of guidance documents under better control, and in particular end the use of documents that 1) are obsolete, 2) improperly use the process to circumvent the need for formal regulation, or 3) improperly go beyond what is provided for in existing legal authority. Shortly after I covered this issue in December, Sessions revoked 25 guidance documents on such grounds. Caleb Brown interviewed me about all this for a Cato Daily Podcast last week.

Earlier, I covered “rule by Dear Colleague Letter” (as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has called it) in posts on the regulation of universities during the Obama and Trump eras. Scott Shackford at Reason points out that the rescission of an earlier DoJ guidance letter on overbearing local government use of fines and fees should be read not as blessing those practices as okay, but as reflecting the likelihood that the federal government lacks clear statutory or constitutional authority to intervene against them. (adapted from Overlawyered). 

In 1961, Julia Child published the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which along with her show The French Chef introduced a culinarily parochial nation to the mysteries of boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and the rich duck liver known as foie gras (literally “fatty liver”). Child is celebrated for raising the standard of American cooking and enlarging the national palate. Yet according to the state of California, she is one of history’s greatest monsters.

As of 2012, California banned the sale of any product that “is the result of force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size.” This rather clumsy description targeted foie gras. Animal rights activists have long derided the foodstuff on the theory that the traditional method of production is a moral abomination. In 2005 they succeeded in passing a law that, after a seven-year delay, banned not only force-feeding within the state, but also the sale of any such product produced elsewhere.

In defense of their delicacy, industry representatives challenged the ban. Lead by a Canadian nonprofit, they filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to hear their case. The Cato Institute has now joined the Reason Foundation to file an amicus brief encouraging the Court to take the case. The brief argues that Congress has established uniform standards for poultry products, consistent with federal authority to normalize the flow of interstate commerce, and that California isn’t entitled to override this congressional judgment.

Reasonable people may disagree as to the ethics of food production, and each of us is entitled to consume or eschew what we wish. What we aren’t entitled to do is impose our idiosyncratic ethics on others. Foie gras is a safe, wholesome ingredient—though it may go straight to your hips—consumed by millions around the world. Some disapprove of that, just as some disapprove of animal products altogether. Jello Biafra long ago warned that in Jerry Brown’s hippie utopia the suede-denim secret police would force your children to meditate in school. Even he didn’t foresee the possibility of mandatory veganism, yet that’s where we’re headed if this law is allowed to stand.

In sum, the high court should review Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec v. Becerra because sometimes state power simply isn’t all it’s quacked up to be.

Will global warming of a couple of tenths of a degree Celsius bring about certain disaster? That’s what a widely circulated report by Marlow Hood of the French Associated Press suggests about the horrors to come if global warming exceeds 1.5°C.

But this is one of those cases where the prescription is worse than the disease.

According to the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, we’ve already warmed about 0.9° since 1900, although temperatures have been remarkably flat in the first 14 years of this century. A bit less than half of the total warming probably had nothing to do with the combustion of fossil fuels, as it began in 1910, when the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide was tiny.

Global temperatures are a mere 0.6° away from the dreaded 1.5° threshold. Yet there are reasons to question the concerns voiced in the AFP report; does one seriously believe that if you tack on another 0.6°, all that prosperity, wealth, and health that was accrued since 1900 starts to melt away?

Since then, vibrant economies grew like topsy. Per capita wealth in the U.S. increased by more than a factor of ten, and life expectancy nearly doubled.

Despite the fact that cities naturally warm from the bricks, buildings and pavement retaining heat, and also warm slightly from carbon dioxide increases, heat-related deaths are in decline because people adapt to frequent and repetitive events. And global warming preferentially heats the coldest airmasses, not the hottest ones. It’s noteworthy that winter cold kills 20 times more people than summer heat. 

And in spite of rising temperatures, there has been economic development throughout Asia and South Asia in recent decades, with China’s average GDP growth exceeding eight per cent since 2000. In sub-Saharan Africa there have been rapid increases in life expectancy, between 20 to 42% since 2000. It’s unlikely that temperatures 0.6 degrees higher will dramatically reverse that.

Yet the AFP article points to research which says that, despite huge gains in global per capita GDP to date, it will fall globally by 13% if the world meets the 2° ceiling. According to the World Bank, global GDP is currently growing at an impressive 3.7% per year, despite climate change.

The research cited by the AFP is flawed at its core, because it assumes that all the warming since 1900 has been caused by human activity. If the spurt that began in 1910 (and ended in 1945) indeed was due to us, then the atmosphere would be so sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide that it would be hotter than blazes right now.

Global temperatures did spike in 2016, but that was thanks to a big El Niño event, a periodic fluctuation of the tropical Pacific Ocean that releases a lot of heat into the atmosphere. Both satellite-sensed and surface-measured temperatures have since fallen back near to what they were at the end of the 14-year “pause” in warming, prior to the El Niño. Both records show net warming to be about half of what was forecast to be occurring by this time.

The 1.5° goal turns out to be very expensive compared to the two degree limit. Recently Joeri Rogelj of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna calculated in his econometric model that the cost of limiting warming to the IPCC’s 1.5°C is three times the cost for two degrees Celsius.

And that doesn’t even consider the illogic that literally a few tenths of a degree of additional warming will somehow turn the world around from its prosperous trajectory of the past 120 years.

This week’s report, by Elizabeth Thomas and colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey, that snowfall has been increasing in Antarctica is hardly surprising. What is different that it is much more comprehensive than previous studies, which were largely limited by a virtual lack of pre-1957 data. That was the “International Geophysical Year”, in which systematic observations of Antarctica’s climate began.

The new study looks at the last 200 years of snowfall trapped in 79 ice cores taken from around the continent. It supplements other recent findings that also made headlines.

Determining Antarctica’s overall ice balance has been, well, slippery. One favored method has been to look at gravitational data measured by satellite. Thicker ice means more mass, which means greater gravity. These studies usually come up with a net loss, translating to from 6/1000 of an inch of sea level rise per year to 12/1000 (both values being rather small beer). But different measurements show otherwise. Three years ago, Jay Zwally and his colleagues at NASA used satellite-based altimetry and concluded Antarctica was undergoing a net gain in ice.

Common sense dictates that it should be snowing more in Antarctica. Think of it as Buffalo on steroids when it comes to snow. In the fall, when Lake Erie isn’t frozen, cold air passing over it from the west picks up evaporated moisture and dumps it on the land in the form of snow squalls. The warmer the water and/or the colder the air is, the more is snows. Unlike a mere Great Lake, Antarctica is surrounded by a largely unfrozen ocean, and when any atmospheric disturbance sends moisture onshore, it snows too.

Around Antarctica, there’s been a slight—meaning a couple of tenths of a degree—warming of the surrounding ocean, which means that the air blowing over it picks up a bit more moisture than it used to. Unlike Lake Erie, the Southern Ocean is huge, and any atmospheric disturbance that shoves more oceanic air up onto the continent is going to be pushing a substantial stream inland with ever more moisture, even for a very slight ocean temperature rise.

The “surface mass balance” of a glacier or an ice sheet is the difference between accumulated snowfall and what either melts or evaporates. In anticipation of increased snowfall, the last (2013) scientific summary by the United Nations’ Intertgovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that the projected 21st change in the Antarctic mass balance to be weakly positive. That’s why it’s perplexing that the new finding is so newsworthy.

But now we know that the snow has been increasing down there for the past 200 years…and that the increase started before the major emissions of atmospheric carbon dioxide.