To be admitted legally to the United States, then apply for a Green Card and later become a naturalized citizen, an immigrant typically must fill out various forms managed by the State Department, US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Given the debate over Islamist extremist terrorism and Islamic immigration (and "naming" the former as a threat), Need to Share News decided to review these questionnaires** and seek answers from the agencies about the process and statistics involving them. [Important note: This report concerns the major documents used by most immigrants. Special programs, such as refugee resettlement, often require additional paperwork/vetting.]
What we learned: During the visa and immigration process, someone seeking to become a US citizen is specifically asked in writing if he/she has been a Communist or World War II Nazi but is not specifically asked in writing whether he or she is or has been a member of ISIS, al-Qaida or other named Islamist terrorist groups.
The only terrorists groups we've seen specifically mentioned in the major documents are Colombian terror groups -- even though they've never attacked the US homeland and are widely believed to have no interest in doing so.
The government does ask general questions applying to other terrorist groups. But it does not keep readily available information on the number and affiliations of applicants who admit being part of ISIS/al-Qaida/other terrorist groups and appears to have no statistics at all on the number of applicants who say "No" when asked if they support the US Constitution.
"Won't they just lie?" ask critics of enhanced immigration screening. Many will, but that misses a key point: Getting them on the record can allow the US to deport, "denaturalize" or prosecute them later if the lie is discovered. This is one reason the US has long asked about membership in Nazi groups: "The U.S. Department of Justice has used lies about wartime service made in immigration papers to deport dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals," the AP reported in 2013. This tactic has also been used against accused members of Islamist terrorist groups and others.
[Note; Do applicants always lie, or do they ever tell the truth about being in terrorist or subversive groups? We asked the government how many immigrants admitted while answering the forms that they were Communists or Nazis, or belonged to a terrorist group. We were surprised by what USCIS told us: "Applicants report membership in various types of groups or organizations, including terrorist organizations, but we do not have statistical information about which applicants claimed membership in which groups readily available." The agency told us such information might be available via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).]
Since the FBI is already overwhelmed with "lone wolf" (or often more accurately, "known wolf") cases across the country, and can often take no action until a terrorist act is committed, an enhanced ability to deport Green Card holders and citizens who've lied about their backgrounds could be a powerful tool.
From State Department Visa Form DS-260
To be fair, during processing for a Green Card and then citizenship, the government does ask in general about an applicant's membership in a "terrorist organization." "Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), for lawful permanent resident status application purposes, an individual who is or has been a member of (or affiliated with) a terrorist organization is generally inadmissible to the United States....," a USCIS spokesman informed us via email. [Note re sourcing: All quotes are on-the-record and from a specific USCIS public affairs official, who asked that he be identified as a "USCIS spokesman."]
We also wondered about the issues raised by Donald Trump's camp and others: How about people who've belonged to Islamist organizations (eg, groups that believe Islamic law should be supreme). In others words, does the US government try to screen out applicants who believe in "Sharia law" above the Constitution? These people are often called "Sharia supremacists" -- although many American Muslims dispute such terms -- more in a later report.
"An applicant for naturalization must show that he or she has been and continues to be a person attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during the statutorily prescribed period.'Attachment' is a stronger term than 'well disposed' and implies a depth of conviction, which would lead to active support of the Constitution. Attachment includes both an understanding and a mental attitude including willingness to be attached to the principles of the Constitution. An applicant who is hostile to the basic form of government of the United States, or who does not believe in the principles of the Constitution, is not eligible for naturalization," said the spokesperson.
The government agencies also all let us know their questions are mandated by the INA and applicable law -- in other words, if they don't specifically ask about membership in ISIS or al-Qaida, Congress needs to take action.
Finally, we asked USCIS for the list of "terrorist groups" its citizenship officials use to screen immigrants, plus whether the controversial Muslim Brotherhood is on that list. That information too was not readily available, though the spokesman said he would try to get it for us. [See update on Aug. 18, 2006, below -- answers from USCIS.]***
The government did say not any information would likely be available on the number of immigrant applicants who answer "No" when asked if they support the Constitution (and/or say they will not take the Oath of Allegiance.) "USCIS does not statistically track this specific information," said the spokesperson.
We'll have more on this topic, including the issue of an ideological test for immigrants to screen out those who believe in "Sharia law." That's clearly far more complicated and contentious than a potential simple improvement to the current immigration system: Specifically asking applicants in writing whether they belong/ed to ISIS, al-Qaida and other groups that want to destroy the United States today.
What questions do you think the US government should ask immigrants? Let us know in the comments section below.
*Some of the applicable documents:
Form DS 260 (State Department visa)
Form I-485 Application for Permanent Residence (USCIS)
Form N-400 Application for Naturalization (USCIS)
**Updates from USCIS on Aug. 18, 2016:
Is there a list of “terrorist organizations” provided to examiners? For example, are the organizations on the State Department list of terrorist groups also on your list?
"The Department of State maintains two lists of designated terrorist organizations, as described in INA § 212(a)(3)(B)(vi)(I) and INA § 212(a)(3)(B)(vi)(II), and those lists are available on the Department of State’s public website at http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm and http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123086.htm respectively. Our officers are trained to refer to the Department of State’s lists of designated terrorist organizations when adjudicating applications for immigration benefits. USCIS does not maintain separate lists of designated terrorist organizations nor does USCIS maintain any list of undesignated terrorist organizations as defined in INA § 212(a)(3)(B)(vi)(III). Rather, a determination as to whether an organization meets the definition of an undesignated terrorist organization is made newly and independently by each USCIS adjudicator in the course of considering each benefit application."
Is the Muslim Brotherhood on the list/s above?
"As of August 10, 2016, the Muslim Brotherhood has not been designated as a terrorist organization by the Department of State or Congress. Please check the Department of State websites listed above for updates to the lists of designated terrorist organizations."
*PS We tweeted this link to reporters covering the "vetting"story @ major media organizations such as the NY Times, Washington Post and CNN. None has responded or, as far as we can tell, included any of this information in their reporting as of 8/18 afternoon.