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Immigration: Terrorist Grounds for Exclusion and Removal of Aliens

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The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) spells out a strict set of admissions criteria and exclusion rules for all foreign nationals who come permanently to the United States as immigrants (i.e., legal permanent residents) or temporarily as nonimmigrants. Notably, any alien who has engaged in or incited terrorist activity, is reasonably believed to be carrying out a terrorist activity, or is a representative or member of a designated foreign terrorist organization is inadmissible. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the INA was broadened to deny entry to representatives of groups that endorse terrorism, prominent individuals who endorse terrorism, and spouses and children of aliens who are removable on terrorism grounds (on the basis of activities occurring within the previous five years). The INA also contains grounds for inadmissibility based on foreign policy concerns.

The report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission) concluded that the key officials responsible for determining alien admissions (consular officers abroad and immigration inspectors in the United States) were not considered full partners in counterterrorism efforts prior to September 11, 2001, and as a result, opportunities to intercept the September 11 terrorists were missed. The 9/11 Commission's monograph, 9/11 and Terrorist Travel, underscored the importance of the border security functions of immigration law and policy.

This report opens with an overview of the grounds for inadmissibility and summarizes key legislation enacted in recent years. The section on current law explains the legal definitions of "terrorist activity," "engage in terrorist activity," and "terrorist organization," and describes the terrorism-related grounds for inadmissibility and removal. Where relevant, the report discusses how recently enacted legislation, including the REAL ID Act and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458), affects these matters. This report also briefly discusses two recent proposals that would modify the terrorism-related provisions of the INA: 1) H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which was introduced by Representative James Sensenbrenner on December 6, 2005 and passed the House as amended on December 16, 2005 by a vote of 239-to-182; and (2) S. 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which was introduced by Senator Arlen Specter on April 7, 2006, and passed the Senate as amended on May 25, 2006, by a vote of 62-to-36.

For legislative analysis of related issues, see CRS Report RL32754, Immigration: Analysis of the REAL ID Act of 2005; CRS Report RL32616, 9/11 Commission: Legislative Action Concerning U.S. Immigration Law and Policy in the 108th Congress; CRS Report RL32399, Border Security: Inspections Practices, Policies and Issues; CRS Report RL32621, U.S. Immigration Policy on Asylum Seekers; CRS Report RL32234, U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program (US-VISIT); and CRS Report RL31512, Visa Issuances: Policy, Issues, and Legislation. This report will be updated as events require.