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 move was immediately greeted Sunday with an angry Republican backlash. Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner said last week that the GOP felt the president could not be trusted on immigration, and that was what was hindering immigration reform. This unilateral move on a very controversial immigration regulation was precisely his point, he added.
"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," says Virginia GOP Rep. Robert Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and part of the GOP House leadership team working on immigration reform.
He and other Republican lawmakers argued that the administration is relaxing rules designed by Congress to protect the country from terrorists.
Others were scratching their heads over why Obama would choose this issue as one of his first unilateral moves after the State of the Union speech.
And Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt on "Fox News Sunday" repeated the concerns of fellow Republicans and others about Obama repeatedly saying that "he can use his pen and his telephone" to work around Congress.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte said there's a significant "trust deficit" between Obama and Republicans that has derailed immigration reform.
"There is a real trust deficit right now that I think the speaker is facing," she said when asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" by host Bob Schieffer about Boehner's recently expressed doubts that immigration reform wouldn't get done this year. Ayotte specifically mentioned the president's executive actions as the main reason for the GOP's apprehension.
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.
As word spread about the Obama administration's unilateral move late last week, Republicans began issuing denunciations.
Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions offered a scathing rebuke of the very ideal of “limited material support” to terrorists.
“Not only is this a national security issue, but a financial issue: those granted admission gain access to federal welfare programs funded by U.S. taxpayers,” Sessions said in a statement. “It seems the Obama Administration has forgotten that our immigration laws are meant to protect the interests of Americans.”
Sessions specifically cited a recently-released audit of immigration systems that revealed that 70 percent of applications for asylum contained warning signs for fraud. He quoted warnings from USCIS union head Kenneth Palinkas’ that the immigration processing system has become a “visa clearing house for the world.”
“In light of these and other facts, it is thus deeply alarming that the Obama Administration would move unilaterally to relax admissions standards for asylum-seekers and potentially numerous other applicants for admission who have possible connections to insurgent or terrorist groups,” Sessions, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, continued in the letter.
“This includes terror groups not yet designated: Al Qaeda was not designated by the Department of State as a foreign terrorist organization until 1999 — long after the first attack on the World Trade Center.”
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