The exclusion categories are reformed and updated
A 1990 U.S.
immigration law, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.), instructs State
Department employees that "mere" membership in a terrorist organization or
advocacy of acts of terrorism should not exclude foreigners from receiving
U.S. immigration visas.
Under the law as it is written, someone who belongs to a Middle Eastern
terrorist group and has publicly stated a desire that the World Trade Center
towers be blown up cannot, on those grounds alone, be denied permission to
legally enter the United States as a prospective citizen.
In such a case, the ultimate decision of whether to grant an immigration
visa is up to a State Department official’s subjective evaluation of a
person’s knowledge and intent.
According to the official foreign affairs manual posted on the State
Department website, the immigration law requires that a foreigner must be
denied a visa if he or she has "indicated intention to cause death or
serious bodily harm, and/or incited terrorist activity."
The department defines "incitement" as "the making of utterances, written or
oral, which are intended to arouse, urge, provoke, stir up, instigate,
persuade, or move another person to commit an act of terrorism."
But merely "advocating" terrorism, or belonging to a group that engages in
terrorism, cannot be used as grounds for exclusion. "Only statements that
directly further or abet the commission of a terrorist act may properly
constitute a basis for denying a visa," says the manual.
A spokesmen for the State Department confirmed that if an individual
generally advocates terrorism, but does not intend to further a terrorist
attack, that individual is "not automatically ineligible for a visa." Also,
the spokesman confirmed, membership in a terrorist organization is not
grounds for exclusion unless the individual in question "knew or should have
known" that the group he belonged to was involved in terrorist activities.
"It has to do with intent," says the spokesman. "If you look at the
regulation, it says, ‘incitement is the making of utterances written or oral,
which are intended to move another person to commit another act of terrorism.’
If I am a student in France, and I hate the United States and I’m sitting in
my dorm room with five other people with me, and I say, ‘We ought to blow up
the U.S. embassy in Paris.’ Is that actually intended? Do you think somebody
would do it?"
The regulations actually contain these words: "[S]tatements approving a
specific terrorist act, and asserting that such acts should be repeated, do
not render an applicant ineligible."
Most of the visa section of the foreign affairs manual is based on the
Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1990, which lowered the national
security standards for granting immigration visas.
Prior to that, under the 1952 immigration act, aliens could be excluded if
there was reason to believe they would engage in activities against the
public interest or the security of the United States. Aliens also could be
excluded for advocating anarchism, the assault or murder of U.S. government
officials, the unlawful damage of property, or for publishing or possessing
material advocating such activities.
The term "mere membership" in a terrorist organization was not defined by
Congress in the 1990 act, so the State Department had to devise its own
policy. The manuals that include the State Department instructions are sent
to every U.S. embassy and consulate in the world to assist consular officers
in admitting aliens into the country. Certain consular offices in unfriendly
states have special instructions on processing visas for foreign nationals.
But every alien must go through a name check, and nationals from unfriendly
regimes go through a more intensive check.
In 1990, a blind Egyptian sheik named Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was later
convicted as a conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, was
admitted to the United States with a visa issued by the embassy in the Sudan,
even though his name appeared on the State Department’s list of undesirables.
This watch list consists of 5.5 million people who may be inadmissible to
the United States for various reasons, including criminal histories and
terrorist links as wells as lack of funds or infectious diseases.
Senators Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D.-N.Y.) pushed
the new legislation through the Senate during the 1990 Persian Gulf crisis.
The legislation was also promoted by some Irish-American groups.
On October 26 of that year, Kennedy explained on the Senate floor: "The
exclusion categories are reformed and updated to end outdated ideological,
medical and communicable disease provisions."
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