An Overview of Terrorism as a Basis for Inadmissibility to the United States

Generally, any individual who is a member of a terrorist organization or who has engaged or engages in terrorist activity as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is inadmissible to the United States and ineligible for most immigration benefits.

Terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds, listed in INA § 212(a)(3)(B), include individuals who:

  • Engaged in “terrorist activity”;
  • Are engaged or are likely to engage in terrorist activity after entry;
  • Incited terrorist activity with intent to cause serious bodily harm or death;
  • Are representatives or current members of a terrorist organization;
  • Endorsed or espoused terrorist activity;
  • Received military-type training from or on behalf of a terrorist organization; or
  • Are spouses or children of anyone who has engaged in terrorist activity within the last five years.

The term “engage in terrorist activity” is broadly defined by the INA and includes such actions such as planning or executing a terrorist activity, soliciting others to do so, providing material support to a terrorist organization or member of a terrorist organization, and soliciting funds or recruiting members for a terrorist organization. INA § 212(a)(3)(B). “Engaged in terrorist activity” is so broadly defined that it may apply to individuals and activities not commonly thought to be associated with terrorism. For instance, the term “material support” includes actions such as providing a safe house, transportation, counterfeit documents, or funds to a terrorist organization or its members. It also includes any action that can assist a terrorist organization or one of its members in any way, such as providing food, helping to set up tents, distributing literature, or making a small monetary contribution.

The INA also defines the term “terrorist organization” very broadly, potentially covering any group that either directly engages or has a subgroup that engages in terrorist activity, regardless of whether the group has actually been designated a terrorist group by the United States. The INA’s broad definitions of “terrorist activity” and “engaging in terrorist activity” do not take into account the context in which the activity occurred or whether it was supported by the United States. The regulations make no exceptions for “freedom fighters.” Both armed resistance groups and guerillas fall within the definition of terrorist organization.

INA section 212(d)(3)(B) allows for certain exemptions from the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds. Some of these exemptions include material support given under duress, solicitation under duress, and certain support given by individuals to certain named organizations. However, no exemptions may be granted to individuals who pose a danger to the United States or continue to engage in terrorist activities.

Even if an individual is not found inadmissible on terror-related grounds, he or she may nevertheless be denied entry on separate security-related grounds. A consular officer may declare any alien inadmissible if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the alien seeks to enter the United States to engage in “any activity a purpose of which is the opposition to, or overthrow of, the Government of the United States by force, violence, or other unlawful means.” INA § 212(a)(3)(A).

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