Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Overly Broad Immigration Provisions Redefine Thousands of Legitimate Refugees, Asylum Seekers as "Terrorists"

We are hearing a lot of talk about unintended consequences of legislation lately. It was one of the major topics when Senator Dodd released his financial reform package yesterday, we saw it when a bill to choke off funding for ACORN would do the same for defense contractors, and maybe the end of abortion coverage in the US is an unintended consequence of the Stupak amendment (though I think that one was intended). In a new report Human Rights First is shining a spotlight on a critical unintended consequence of the immigration restrictions in the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act and the 2005 REAL ID Act.

The report, Denial and Delay: The Impact of the Immigration Law's "Terrorism Bars" on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the United States, shines light on the extent of the problem. At their core, the problems stem from an over-broad definition of 'material support' that snares a huge number of otherwise uncontroversial immigrants and asylum seekers in the category of terrorists.

Example: your father was kidnapped my a militant group in Zimbabwe and in order to save his life you had to pay his ransom. Upon his safe return you decide to seek asylum in the United States. Unfortunately, in the eyes of U.S. law the ransom is material support to a terrorist organization, and you are a terrorist.

From the HRF press release:

"These were not the people Congress intended to target," said Human Rights First's Anwen Hughes, author of the report. "In fact many of these refugees supported the same causes the United States supports, or were victimized by forces the U.S. government also opposes. But attempts to solve this problem through piecemeal "waiver" announcements are not working."

According to the report, over 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been affected by these overbroad provisions to date, and of those, over 7,500 cases remain on indefinite hold with the Department of Homeland Security. For the past four years, the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State have been attempting to resolve this problem by granting discretionary "waivers" of the law's effects. Unfortunately, this approach has left many refugees in limbo and others at risk of deportation.

The press release and links to other materials including the report are here.

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