US relaxes strict rules on potential immigrants with limited terrorist links
Posted on February 12, 2014
The Obama administration has eased the rules for would-be asylum-seekers, refugees and others who hope to come to or stay in the US and who gave “limited” support to terrorists or terrorist groups. The change is one of President Barack Obama’s first actions on immigration since he pledged during his State of the Union address last month to use more executive directives.
The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department now say that people considered to have provided “limited material support” to terrorists or terrorist groups are no longer automatically barred from the US.
A post-September 11 provision in immigrant law, known as “terrorism related inadmissibility grounds”, had affected anyone considered to have given support. With little exception, the provision has been applied rigidly to those trying to enter the US and those already here but wanting to change their immigration status.
The Homeland Security Department said in a statement that the rule change, which was announced last week and not made in concert with Congress, gives the government more discretion, but will not open the country to terrorists or their sympathisers. People seeking refugee status, asylum and visas, including those already in the United States, will still be checked to make sure they do not pose a threat to national security or public safety, the department said.
In the past, the provision has been criticised for allowing few exemptions beyond providing medical care or acting under duress. The change now allows officials to consider whether the support was not only limited but potentially part of “routine commercial transactions or routine social transactions”.
The change does not specifically address “freedom fighters” who may have fought against an established government, including members of rebel groups who have led revolts in Arab Spring uprisings.
In late 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Services said about 4,400 affected cases were on hold as the government reviewed possible exemptions to the rule. It is unclear how many of those cases are still pending.
Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said the rule change will help people he described as deserving refugees and asylum-seekers.
“The existing interpretation was so broad as to be unworkable,” Leahy said in a statement. He said the previous rule barred applicants for reasons “that no rational person would consider”.
Republican lawmakers argued that the administration is relaxing rules designed by Congress to protect the country from terrorists. Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House judiciary committee, called the change naive, given today’s global terrorist threats.
“President Obama should be protecting US citizens rather than taking a chance on those who are aiding and abetting terrorist activity and putting Americans at greater risk,” Goodlatte said.
Meanwhile, on the prospects of broader immigration reform legislation this year, Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and one of chief architects of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration plan, offered what he said was a simple solution to address concerns expressed by the House leader, John Boehner, that Obama would not fully enforce any laws that might be approved.
“Let’s enact the law this year but simply not let it actually start until 2017 after President Obama’s term is over,” Schumer said on NBC’s Meet the Press programme.
“Now, I think the rap against him that he won’t enforce the law is false. He’s deported more people than any president but you could actually have the law start in 2017 without doing much violence to it.”
Schumer said it would be difficult to pass immigration reform in 2015 or 2016 when the next presidential election season opens because Republican candidates would be staking out conservative positions on immigration in order to differentiate themselves from Democrats.
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