The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Brenda Bowser Soder
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Overly Broad Immigration Provisions Redefine Thousands of Legitimate Refugees, Asylum Seekers as 'Terrorists'

Eight Years After Enactment of Patriot Act Provisions, Human Rights First Report Outlines Needed Reforms


Changes to U.S. immigration law contained within the 2001 USA
PATRIOT Act and the 2005 REAL ID Act and intended to protect the United
States from terrorism are hurting thousands of legitimate refugees who
pose no threat to American security, according to a new Human Rights
First report released today. The report, Denial and Delay: The Impact of the Immigration Law's "Terrorism Bars" on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the United States, examines this troubling issue and offers a series of recommendations to fix this serious problem.

The immigration law's definition of 'terrorist activity' has been
overbroad since 1990. But over the past eight years, new definitions of
"terrorist organization" and of "material support" have enlarged the
law's impact, and federal immigration agencies have interpreted all of
these definitions in an extremely expansive way. Thousands of men,
women, and children have had their applications for asylum, permanent
residence, and family reunification denied or delayed as a result.
Among these individuals are peaceful advocates for democracy in
countries ranging from Sudan to Zimbabwe, children who were abducted by
rebel armies, doctors who provided medical care to anyone who fought
with non-state forces, and those who fought against the armies of
repressive governments in their home countries - even with the support
of the U.S. government.

"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.

To address these concerns, Human Rights First called for swift
action to achieve a comprehensive solution to this problem. The group
notes that Congress should:

  • Eliminate the statutory concept of a "Tier III terrorist
    organization" (colloquially summarized as "two guys and a gun"). This
    definition continues to produce many unintended consequences without
    corresponding security gains.
  • Amend the immigration law's definition of "terrorist
    activity" (currently understood to cover any unlawful use of force by a
    non-state actor, against anyone or anything), so that a person is no
    longer defined as a "terrorist" for immigration-law purposes simply for
    having engaged in military action against an opposing army.
  • Give immigration judges the power to grant "waivers" of these provisions in immigration court cases.

The Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State should:

  • Support these necessary changes to the immigration law's definitions.
  • Interpret existing law consistently with its text and purpose, to target those who advance terrorist activity.
  • Adopt a more effective and fair approach to granting
    "waivers," one that allows people initially applying for asylum,
    refugee status, or other relief to be considered for waivers based on
    an individualized assessment of their actions, that permits prompt
    adjudication of the large mass of applications for permanent residence
    and family reunification of people already granted asylum or refugee
    status, and that ensures that no refugee is deported without being
    considered for a waiver if eligible for one under the law.

"Congress and the Administration must take a thorough and
even-handed approach to address the roots of this problem," Hughes
concluded. "These changes are critical in order to ensure that our
immigration laws are not used to exclude legitimate refugees from the
protection the United States is committed to offering them."

Read the Fact Sheet
Read Real Life Refugee Stories

Read the Summary & Recommendations

Read the Full Report

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.