On Tuesday, a landmark immigration bill that would put 11 million undocumented immigrants on the path to U.S. citizenship cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, but not before Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) added an amendment requiring additional screening for immigrants hailing from an unspecified number of countries that pose a heightened terrorist threat. As Hayes Brown reports over at ThinkProgress, the Graham amendment mandates additional review for those who are from "a region or country known to pose a threat, or that contains groups or organizations that pose a threat, to the national security of the United States."
"[I]t’s pretty clear what I’m trying to do," Graham said during a markup of the bill. "I’m trying to make sure that in addition to looking at your criminal background, when you adjust status, that if there are certain parts of the world or countries — like Yemen — that you’re adjusting from, I want to know a little more about you, given the world we live in."
The Graham amendment declines to name specifically which countries would trigger the additional screening, but leaves the determination up to the secretary of homeland security in consultation with the secretary of state.
When reached for comment, Graham’s office reiterated that the decision would rest with the Department of Homeland Security but confirmed that the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list could conceivably serve as a guide. "The DHS Secretary can simply use the list maintained by State but is free to go beyond it," a spokesman for Graham told FP in an email.
If the State Department list were to ultimately serve as the guide, however, Graham’s amendment might apply to an exceptionally broad class of applicants. The list, which identifies foreign terrorist groups that threaten "the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States," catalogues 52 organizations operating in dozens of countries, including many not ordinarily associated with terrorism.
The irony of the Graham amendment is that it’s been billed by critics as an attempt to resurrect the post-9/11 National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which forced immigrants from 24 Muslim countries to undergo additional scrutiny until it was mostly abandoned by the Obama administration in 2011. But by targeting immigrants from states that "contain groups or organizations" that threaten the United States — assuming the State Department list is used to make such determinations — Graham’s amendment would go far beyond the NSEERS, applying to immigrants from dozens of countries on virtually every continent.
Far from only applying to Muslim or Middle Eastern countries, the amendment would apply, for example, to immigrants from Greece, Ireland, and Spain, all of which have terrorist organizations that appear on the State Department’s list operating within their borders. It would also apply to immigrants from India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Indonesia, to name just a few. Countries "where terrorists operate," as Graham put it during the markup, actually make up a sizable chunk of the planet.
Graham’s amendment, which passed by voice vote and was inserted into the bill, will most likely face opposition from Democrats when it’s debated on the Senate floor next month. Whether or not they take issue with its extraordinary breadth remains to be seen.