The Obama administration has unilaterally eased restrictions on asylum seekers with loose or incidental ties to terror and insurgent groups, in a move one senator called "deeply alarming."
The change, approved by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Secretary of State John Kerry, was announced Wednesday in the Federal Register. It would allow some individuals who provided "limited material support" to terror groups to be considered for entry into the U.S.
Supporters of the change, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., argued that the current ban on anyone who has ever aided terrorists has unfairly blocked thousands of refugees.
"The existing interpretation was so broad as to be unworkable," Leahy said in a statement. "It resulted in deserving refugees and asylees being barred from the United States for actions so tangential and minimal that no rational person would consider them supporters of terrorist activities."
But critics say despite the good intentions, the change raises security concerns, particularly after a report published Thursday on asylum fraud.
"In light of these and other facts, it is thus deeply alarming that the Obama administration would move unilaterally to relax admissions standards for asylum seekers and potentially numerous other applicants for admission who have possible connections to insurgent or terrorist groups," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in a statement on Thursday. "We need to tighten security standards for asylum, not relax them even further."