The Obama administration has eased the rules for would-be asylum-seekers, refugees and others who hope to come to the United States or stay here 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 United States.
A post-Sept. 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 U.S. 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 won’t open the country to terrorists or their sympathizers.
People seeking refugee status, asylum and visas, including those already in the United States, still will be checked to make sure they don’t pose a threat to national security or public safety, the department said.
In the past, the provision has been criticized 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.”
“Refugee applicants are subject to more security checks than any other category of traveler to the United States,” Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard said. “Nothing in these exemptions changes the rigorous, multilayered security screening we do.”