The Biden administration altered federal law to make it easier for individuals who have worked with designated terrorist groups to legally enter the United States.
The State and Homeland Security Departments last week amended federal immigration laws to allow foreigners who provided "insignificant material support" to designated terror groups to receive "immigration benefits or other status," according to the policy published in the Federal Register. Examples of individuals who would fall into the new category, according to the announcement, include individuals who provided "humanitarian assistance" or "routine commercial transactions" to terror groups.
The policy shift is fueling concerns that the Biden administration wants to make it easier for individuals who work with or for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country's paramilitary fighting force that has killed hundreds of Americans, to enter the country. Notice of the change came several days before the Biden administration and hardline Iranian government resumed talks aimed at securing a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal.
A State Department spokesman said the law was amended to help vulnerable Afghans, who might have inadvertently worked with terror groups, gain refuge in the United States following the Biden administration's bungled withdrawal that left the Taliban in power. Lawmakers and former U.S. officials, however, say the new regulations are so broadly written that they would apply to organizations like al Qaeda and the IRGC. The policy change is also raising red flags as U.S. officials, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, face credible death threats from Iran.
The rule does not specifically mention Afghanistan but is written to cover all U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, such as the IRGC and al Qaeda, experts told the Free Beacon. The Taliban is not designated as a foreign terrorist organization, leaving lawmakers and former U.S. officials concerned the changes extend far beyond vulnerable Afghans and cover those tied to some of the globe's most violent terror groups.
Gabriel Noronha, a State Department special adviser for Iran during the Trump administration, said that "the Biden administration is claiming this regulation is all about Afghanistan, but they didn't even mention Afghanistan once in their action, and have made no serious attempt to limit the scope to the situation there."
"Instead," said Noronha, who is a fellow with the Jewish Institute for National Security of America think tank, "this looks like a massive watering down of our immigration restrictions against members of terrorist organizations."
The State Department says the changes are limited to Afghanistan, but would not say why the country is not mentioned once in the new order.
The changes "are an effort to address issues related to Afghanistan," a State Department spokesman, speaking only on background, told the Free Beacon. "The circumstances between Afghanistan and Iran are very different." The new rules "are not applicable to people who have received military-type training from [foreign terrorist organizations], including IRGC conscripts." Rather, the administration is trying to make it easier for those tangentially tied to terrorism to legally enter the country, the official maintained.
When the Free Beacon requested additional information and an explanation as to why the IRGC or similar groups would not be covered by the changes, the State Department declined to answer, saying, "We have no further information or comments to share." This lack of clarity is fueling concerns about the policy change.
Noronha and others who spoke to the Free Beacon say the broad reference to "foreign terrorist organizations" leaves open the possibility that groups like the IRGC and al Qaeda would benefit from the relaxed immigration guidelines. The revamped guidelines do not specifically include restrictions on either of these groups. "At best this is a horribly written regulation. At worst, it's an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of Congress and the American people and make it easier for terrorists to come to America," Noronha said.
Richard Goldberg, who under Trump served on the White House National Security Council as the director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction, said that any effort to loosen restrictions on terror-tied individuals is worrying amid Iran's threats to kill U.S. leaders.
"Given Iran is actively plotting to kill former American officials, the administration should carefully explain if and how this [rule] might apply to a potential affiliate of the IRGC, and provide a high-level commitment to take all necessary steps to bar any potential IRGC associate from admission to the United States," Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, told the Free Beacon.
Republican lawmakers agree with this assessment. Five Republican foreign policy leaders who spoke to the Free Beacon expressed concerns the administration is trying to quietly grant concessions to Iran as it reenters nuclear talks.
"It's outrageous that the Biden administration is lifting the blanket ban on individuals who have provided support to terrorists from entering the United States," Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon. "The timing raises concerns coming just a few days before the latest round of Iran talks. President Biden should end these failed negotiations once and for all and return to a policy of maximum pressure, rather than continuing to make concessions to the terrorist regime in Iran."
Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he and his colleagues worry the Biden administration is attempting to grant concessions to Iran via backdoor changes to American laws.
"What do Americans gain by letting members of Iran's terrorist army cross our borders?" Banks asked.
Rep. Mike Waltz (R., Fla.), a combat veteran and also a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the change is purely about "appeasing terrorist groups—whether it's the IRGC, Houthis, or Taliban."
Reps. Lisa McClain (R., Mich.) and Pat Fallon (R., Texas), both Armed Services Committee members, expressed shock at how broadly written the new regulations are.
"In what world is it an acceptable decision to allow terrorists into our country?" Fallon asked the Free Beacon. "Instead of ending the nuclear talks with Iran all together, Joe Biden has decided to bend over backwards to the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism. Before it is too late, I urge them to immediately reconsider this foolish decision."
Update June 29, 3:31 p.m.: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Biden administration made no formal announcement of the policy change.