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Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds (TRIG) Training Materials for Asylum Officers

May 31, 2023 (5 min read)

David L. Cleveland, May 29, 2023

"US-CIS, in response to a FOIA lawsuit by the Louise Trauma Center, released 109 pages of training materials, dated December 2019, that it gave to its asylum officers.

This article will quote some of the material. The pages are available on the “Asylum Officer Materials” page at, entitled “National Security part 1 [2019];” “National Security part 2” and “National Security part 3.”

A training module entitled “National Security, Part 1” dated December 20, 2019, is 36 pages long. The focus is on “terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG), as set forth in INA section 212(a)(3)(B). A Table of Contents begins on page 7 of 36.

USCIS has a Controlled Application and Resolution Program (CAARP). This module discusses common national security (NS) “indicators.”

“The applicant has the burden of proof to establish that he or she is not subject to a security-related bar or inadmissibility.” Page 11.

There are “individuals who have been nominated and accepted for placement in the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB).” These are called Known or Suspected Terrorists (KST).

The Department of State maintains a Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS). Page 13. The FBI operates the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC). The CBP administers the National Targeting Center (NTC).

There are also Non-Known or Suspected Terrorists (Non-KSTs).

To determine if a person is a security risk, you should consider various factors, including interaction with KSTs, unexplained travel, and “financial irregularities.” Page 25.

RAIO operates a Research Unit. Queries may be sent there; responses are posted to the RAIO Research Unit ECN page. Page 28.

NATIONAL SECURITY PART 2 [December 20, 2019; 73 pages]

A Table of Contents begins at page 7 of 73. This lesson plan covers Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds (TRIG). [Many parts have been redacted, under FOIA exemption b(7)(e).]

There are three “tiers” of Terrorist Organizations. Page 17 of 73:

Tier I: Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO){designated by the Secretary of State}

Tier II: Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL){otherwise designated by Secretary of State}

Tier III: “Undesignated” Terrorist Organizations: two or more persons, “whether organized or not”

The current FTO list can be found on the DOS Bureau of Counterterrorism homepage.

The DOS maintains a Terrorist Exclusion List. Page 19 of 73.

“Any” group of two or more individuals may constitute a “terrorist organization” and may be deemed to be an “Undesignated Terrorist Organization.”

Uddin v Att’y Gen., 870 F.3d 282, 289-90 (3rd Cir. 2017) held that an entity may not be deemed a terrorist organization “unless its leaders authorized terrorist activity committed by its members.” Page 20. Hussain v. Mukasey,  518 F.3d 534, 538 (7th Cir. 2008) is basically in accord.

“Engage in Terrorist Activity” is defined broadly. Page 28. It includes “to solicit funds” for a terrorist organization. Collecting funds for the payment of ransom may not be solicitation, but such payment could be deemed “material support.” Page 28.

Affording “material support” is defined broadly. INA section 212(a)(3)(B)(iv)(VI) provides that it is “terrorist activity” if the person commits an act that “affords material support, including a safe house, transportation, communications, funds, transfer of funds, or other material financial benefit, false documentation or identification…” Page 29.

-giving food to, and helping to set up tents for a terrorist organization is the providing of “material support.” Page 30.

-paying monthly dues for four years and hanging posters is giving “material support.”

-paying $300 is giving “material support.” Page 31. [but, there is a possible exemption for giving “limited” or “insignificant” material support]

-paying ransom is giving material support; but calling others to ask them to pay ransom is not. Page 33.

Matter of M-H-Z-, 26 I&N Dec. 757 (BIA 2016) held that both voluntary and involuntary conduct falls under giving material support, and held there is no implied duress exception.

But, “lack of knowledge” could create an exception. Page 36.

There are different kinds of exemptions: “group-based;” “situational;” and “individual.”

The Kurdish Democratic Party is not a terrorist organization. Page 43 of 73.

Certain groups in Iraq, Burma, El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Eritrea are exempted from certain bars and penalties.

There are three types of duress-based exemptions:

-material support under duress

- military-type training under duress

-solicitation under duress

Voluntary medical care can be exempted. Page 55.

Certain Limited Material Support (CLMS) and Insignificant Material Support (IMS) can be exempted. Page 59. Routine commercial transactions and routine social interactions can be exempted.

“In asylum cases, an applicant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is not subject to any bars.” INA section 208(b)(1)(B)(i)

Comments of the author

TRIG issues continue to vex asylum applicants.

The Tenth Circuit faulted an asylum applicant for not having produced “any evidence demonstrating why he is not subject to the terrorism-related inadmissibility bar.”

Al-Ghizi v. Garland, 2022 WL 17491843, at *4 (C.A.10, 2022)

“And agency precedent holds that the persecutor bar has no exception for acts committed under duress or coercion. SeeMatterofNegusie, 28 I. & N. Dec. 120, 121 (A.G. 2020).” De Leon Vasquez v. Garland, 2022 WL 301549, at *2 (C.A.9, 2022)

The Attorney General has set forth the law as he sees it, in Matter of Daniel Girmai Negusie, 28 I. & N. Dec. 120 (A.G. 2020):

-the noncitizen has the burden of proof to show he is eligible for relief, and that he is not barred from relief, under different sections of the INA and CFR. “None of these provisions places a burden on DHS.” 28 I&N Dec. at 153.

-the Secretary of Homeland Security has authority to create a waiver for duress to the bar on admissibility for aliens who have provided material support for terrorism.

28 I. & N. Dec. at 135–36.

-USCIS has published criteria for discretionary exemptions:

 For the Solicitation of Funds or Members under Duress

For the Receipt of Military-Type Training Under Duress

For Providing Material Support to Certain Terrorist Organizations

Note 10, 28 I. & N. Dec. at 135–36.

= = = = = = = = = = =

Courts are divided on whether the Freedom of Information Act exempts TRIG materials from disclosure:

The Second Circuit held that TRIG questions, posed by USCIS officers, were exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, because they “reflect specialized methods that USCIS has refined through its decades of enforcing United States immigration laws.” Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 30 F.4th 318, 325 (C.A.2 (N.Y.), 2022)

But, a district court in Maine suggested that some TRIG questions were not exempt under the FOIA, because there is a distinction between (1) standards of adjudication or factors an agency applies explicitly or in practice when deciding cases, and (2) methods of allocating investigative or prosecutorial resources by screening or selecting among a larger number of applications to determine whether more information is needed or whether further checks should be made. While the information in the second category is analogous to the kind of information courts have determined agencies may withhold, there is sound reason not to interpret Exemption 7(E) to allow Defendant to withhold the standards generally used in the first category. American Civil Liberties Union of Maine Foundation v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2022 WL 1747863, at *15 (D.Me., 2022)

David L. Cleveland was the Chair of the AILA Asylum Committee [2004-05] and has secured asylum or withholding for persons from 48 countries. Based in Washington DC, he is available at <>