Abandoning the Persecuted: Refugees at Risk under Sweeping “Terrorism” Bar

August 24th, 2007 - by admin

Human Rights First – 2007-08-24 23:55:13


Historically, the United States has symbolized freedom and safe haven for refugees who flee oppression and abuse in their homelands. But thousands of vulnerable refugees have been prevented from receiving asylum or being resettled in the US because of sweeping immigration provisions included in the USA PATRIOT Act and the REAL ID Act that relate to “material support” to “terrorist” organizations.

The government’s concept of “material support” is so broad that it ends up affecting refugees who do not support terrorism, and even refugees who are actually the victims of violent groups – like Colombian refugees who have been forced to pay money to armed militants.

These flawed provisions have also prevented Burmese religious minorities from receiving asylum or resettlement. Their contributions to ethnic organizations that have armed wings opposing the Burmese regime have been categorized as “material support” to “terrorist” organizations — even though the US government has roundly condemned the Burmese regime’s repression of religious and ethnic minorities.

On January 11, 2007, the administration announced a plan to address the plight of asylum seekers and refugees affected by the “material support” bar. The Department of Homeland Security announced its intent — for the first time — to use its authority to exempt some asylum seekers and others from this bar. These exemptions will not, however, cover all of the affected refugees and asylum seekers. To learn more, please click here.

The administration has also announced that it will seek legislation from Congress to allow it to exempt other groups, for example to allow for the resettlement of members and combatants of armed groups that have supported US forces. The administration’s legislative proposal would not, however, correct the flawed language of the immigration law definitions that are labeling innocent people as supporters of “terrorist organizations.”

On Friday, April 27, 2007, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff signed a statement authorizing USCIS to exempt from the “material support” bar those who provided material support under duress to designated terrorist organizations if the individuals are determined to meet certain criteria.

On September 26, 2006, Human Rights First issued a report entitled “Abandoning the Persecuted” documenting the impact of the “material support” bar on refugees who seek asylum in the United States. As detailed in the report, many refugees have had their asylum requests denied or relegated to a long-term administrative limbo because of this overly broad provision of the immigration law.

The time that refugees have spent in immigration jails – and separated from their families – has been prolonged by months or even years.

The report includes recommendations for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, and the US Congress.

The “material support” bar would also impact Montagnards who supported US troops during the Vietnam War, Cubans who fought Castro, and Liberian rape survivors who were forced to do laundry for militant groups – hardly the types of individuals the material support policy intended to bar.

To help lift this bar, Human Rights First is working with a coalition of faith-based, refugee resettlement, and advocacy organizations representing both conservative to progressive views. To learn more about this issue, you can read the helpful background materials prepared by Refugee Council USA, with input from HRF and other groups.

Material support backgrounder
Human Rights First has been representing, and assisting lawyers who are representing, asylum seekers whose cases are affected by this issue. The Department of Homeland Security is currently examining the potential of agreeing to “waivers” in appropriate cases, but while this issue continues to await a resolution, the fates of thousands of refugees remain uncertain.

In February 2006, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and Immigration and Refugee Clinic released their report “Preliminary Findings and Conclusions on the Material Support for Terrorism Bar as Applied to the Overseas Resettlement of Refugees from Burma,” based on research and fieldwork with Burmese refugees.

The study concluded that thousands of legitimate Burmese refugees ran the risk of being labeled by the US as terrorists, finding that the definition of terrorism, as now employed, encompasses the activities of long-established groups in Burma, both civilian and military, that have been opposing the current authoritarian regime over the past five decades. Click here to read the report.

In May 2006, Georgetown University Law students released their report “Unintended Consequences: Refugee Victims of the War on Terror,” documenting research on the application of the “material support to terrorists” bar to Colombian refugees. The report recommends that Congress amend the material support bar to include an exception for support provided involuntarily and that DHS establish clear administrative guidelines to prevent improper refugee exclusion. Click here to read the report.

DHS Waivers
Federal Register DHS Material Support Waiver (03/06/07)
This waiver affects non-citizens who provided material support under “duress” to Tier III designated organizations.

Federal Register DHS Material Support Waivers (03/06/07)
This includes waivers for non-citizens in the following Tier III organizations: Cuban Alzados, Kayan New Land Party, Karenni National Progressive Party, Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army, Mustangs, Arakan Liberation Party, the Chin National Front/Chin National Army, and the Chin National League.