By Michael Chapman, Cato Institute
Among many interesting facts in a new Cato Institute report, Terrorism and Immigration, is that between 1975 and 2022 the annual chance of being killed on U.S. soil in an attack by a terrorist who crossed the border illegally was zero.
During the same timeframe, “the annual chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack by a refugee [was] about 1 in 3.3 billion,” said the report’s author, Alex Nowrasteh.
Foreign‐born terrorists killed 3,046 people in the U.S. between 1975 and 2022, but the statistical chance of an illegal immigrant committing such a crime was zero. Most of the 219 foreign‐born terrorists who killed those 3,046 people were in the U.S. on tourist and student visas, the report documents.
Most of the victims (97.8 percent) were killed on Sept. 11, 2001. The other victims (2.2 percent) lost their lives in a few attacks over 48 years (1975–2022).
In that period, the report documents that “the approximate annual chance that an American resident would be murdered in a terrorist attack carried out by a foreign‐born terrorist was 1 in 4,338,984.”
Another interesting fact is that the overwhelming majority of foreign‐born terrorist attacks in the U.S. were committed by radical Islamists. For instance, between 1975 and 2022, 219 foreign‐born terrorists carried out operations on U.S. soil. Among those terrorists, “67 percent were Islamists,” according to the report.
Among the other foreign‐born terrorists, “16 percent were foreign nationalists, 6 percent were right‐wing extremists, 5 percent were non‐Islamic religious terrorists, 4 percent were left‐wing extremists, and the rest were separatists, adherents of other or unknown ideologies, or targeted worshippers of specific religions,” states the report.
Terrorism is terrifying, but it is fortunately infrequent. The chance of being murdered in a non‐terrorist homicide was 316 times as great as being killed in a terrorist attack during the 48‐year period studied in the policy analysis. Terrorism committed by foreign‐born terrorists remains a threat to the life, liberty, and property of Americans but it is a relatively small threat that has diminished over time.
Michael Chapman is a senior editor at the Cato Institute.