Generally, any individual who is a member of a “terrorist organization” or who has engaged or engages in terrorism-related activity as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is “inadmissible” (not allowed to enter) the United States and is ineligible for most immigration benefits.
The definition of terrorism-related activity is relatively broad and may apply to individuals and activities not commonly thought to be associated with terrorism. As a result, Congress created a statutory exemption provision through which the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State may exempt individuals from the grounds of inadmissibility.
Congress has determined that some individuals should not be allowed entry into the United States. The reasons individuals are denied admission vary and can be found in INA section 212, codified as Title 8 of the U.S. Code, section 1182.
Terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG), exclude persons who have participated in various kinds of activity, including activity that is generally illegal and/or violent. The grounds for inadmissibility include, but are not limited to, individuals who:
Engaged in ‘terrorist activity’”
Are engaged or are likely to engage in terrorist activity after entry
Incited terrorist activity with intent to cause serious bodily harm or death
Are representatives or current members of a terrorist organization
Endorsed or espoused terrorist activity
Received military-type training from or on behalf of a terrorist organization; or
Are spouses or children of anyone who has engaged in terrorist activity within the last five years (with certain exceptions).
The term terrorist activity covers various actions commonly associated with terrorism such as kidnapping, assassination, hijacking, nuclear, biological, or chemical agents, the use of firearms or other dangerous devices etc.
The INA defines terrorist activity quite expansively such that the term can apply to persons and actions not commonly thought of as terrorists and to actions not commonly thought of as terrorism. Significantly, there is no exception under the law for “freedom fighters,” so most rebel groups would be considered to be engaging in terrorist activity even if fighting against an authoritarian regime.
Engaging in Terrorist Activity
This includes actions such as planning or executing a terrorist activity, soliciting others to do so, providing material support to a terrorist organization or member of a terroist organization, and soliciting funds or recruiting members for a terrorist organization. See section 212(a)(3)(B).
The term “material support” includes actions such as providing a safe house, transportation, counterfeit documents, or funds to a terrorist organization or its members.
It also includes any action that can assist a terrorist organization or one of its members in any way, such as providing food, helping to set up tents, distributing literature, or making a small monetary contribution.
Categories of Terrorist Organizations
These terrorist organizations are designated by the Secretary of State and are also referred to as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs)
These terrorist organizations are also designated by the Secretary of State and exclude individuals associated with terrorist organizations from entry to the U.S. These organizations are included in the Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL).
These terrorist organizations are defined by law as “a group of two or more individuals, whether organized or not, which engages in, or has a subgroup which engages in,” terrorist activity. Tier III organizations are also called “undesignated terrorist organizations” because they qualify as terrorist organizations based on their activities alone without undergoing a formal designation process like Tier I and Tier II organizations.
Instead, the determination of whether a group can be considered a Tier III organization is made on a case-by-case basis, generally in connection with the review of an application for an immigration benefit. Tier III organizations can and do arise and change over time.
The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, can grant exemptions from the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds for much of the activity covered under the statute (see section 212(d)(3)(B) of the INA).
To date, the Secretaries have exempted a number of groups and certain activities. To learn more about Exemptions see our Terroism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds Exemptions page.
If you have questions about the status of your specific case on TRIG hold, please contact TRIGQuery@uscis.dhs.gov. Please include your Alien Registration Number and any relevant details to your case. If you are an attorney representing a client on TRIG hold, please additionally include the G-28 form, so that USCIS can reply to the substance of your inquiry.