The Obama administration has ordered changes to immigration rules to allow persons who are believed to have had only “limited” associations with known terrorist groups to come to the United States.
The rule change applies to asylum-seekers, refugees and others who are looking to relocate to the U.S., The Associated Press reported Monday.
The rule change is one of the administration’s first actions regarding immigration policy since President Obama pledged to use his executive authority to implement policy during his State of the Union address last month.
Now, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security say that people considered to have, at one time, provided “limited material support” to terrorists or terror groups won’t be barred automatically from entering the U.S.
A provision in post-9/11 immigration law, known as terrorism related inadmissibility grounds, applied to anyone considered to have supported such activities, the AP noted. There were few exceptions, and the provision had been strictly applied to anyone who tried to gain entry to the country or who were already inside the U.S. but sought to change their immigration status.
Officials said the changes won’t affect U.S. national security.
“Refugee applicants are subject to more security checks than any other category of traveler to the United States," Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard told the AP. "Nothing in these exemptions changes the rigorous, multilayered security screening we do."
However, the rule change does not address the classification “freedom fighters” – those who may have fought against an established government. Those include members of rebel groups involved in the so-called Arab Spring uprisings of the past few years.
The decision was panned by some Republicans.
“President Obama should be protecting U.S. citizens rather than taking a chance on those who are aiding and abetting terrorist activity and putting Americans at greater risk,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.