The investigation, led by House Armed Services Committee member Jim Banks (R., Ind.), comes on the heels of a Washington Free Beacon report last month that detailed how the administration amended federal immigration law to permit foreigners who provided “insufficient material support” to designated terrorist organizations to receive “immigration benefits or other status” inside America.
The State Department said the law was altered to make it easier for vulnerable Afghans who might have worked with terror groups to find refuge in America, but current and former U.S. officials who spoke to the Free Beacon said the rule is so broadly written that it could also apply to those who worked with al Qaeda or Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country’s paramilitary fighting force that has killed hundreds of Americans.
“These loose and overly broad definitions will open the floodgates for supporters of terrorism to enter the United States,” Banks and three Republican colleagues wrote in a letter to the White House that was obtained exclusively by the Free Beacon. “Such a general waiver, if implemented, would create additional difficulty in immigration vetting process, have catastrophic consequences on border security and put American families at increased risk from terrorism.”
The lawmakers—Banks and Reps. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.), Greg Steube (R., Fla.), and Rob Wittman (R., Va.)—want the administration to provide Congress with information about whether this rule change was implemented as a concession to Iran meant to entice the country into inking a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear accord.
“This order was also released just weeks before negotiations with Iran over restoring the nuclear deal recommenced,” they write. “Your administration may be trying to entice Iran back to the nuclear deal by using broad executive authorities to weaken the penalties connected to the [foreign terrorist organization] designation without requiring the IRGC and other Iran-supported terrorist organizations to verifiably cease their terrorist activities.”
The State Department, which along with the Department of Homeland Security authored the rule change, said the changes are part of “an effort to address issues related to Afghanistan. The circumstances between Afghanistan and Iran are very different.”
The rule does not specifically mention Afghanistan, however, and appears to cover all U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, such as the IRGC and al Qaeda, according to lawmakers and former senior U.S. officials who reviewed the order and spoke to the Free Beacon. The Taliban is not designated as a foreign terrorist organization, adding more confusion.
Examples of individuals who would fall into the new category include those who provided “humanitarian assistance” or “routine commercial transactions” to designated terror groups, according to a copy of the rule published in the Federal Register.
“Exercising broad executive authorities to weaken the legal force of [foreign terrorist organization] designations is bound to increase risks to U.S. national security,” the lawmakers say.
The lawmakers asked the administration to explain by July 22 why it altered immigration laws.
They want to know how the administration justifies these changes and how it could possibly support “the national interest to allow any supporters of terrorism into the United States.”
They also want to know how many individuals have qualified for immigration benefits under the rule change and how many could qualify each year. This includes details about how many of these terror-tied individuals are from Afghanistan and Iran.
“If, as the State Department spokesperson commented, this order is intended to benefit Afghan Special Immigration Visa applicants and holders, why is this group not explicitly mentioned?” the lawmakers ask.
“Does your administration intend to issue any immigration related waivers for IRGC and its affiliates? If, as State Department spokesperson commented, this order is not intended to benefit the IRGC and its affiliates, why are IRGC and its affiliates not explicitly excluded from this order?”