For Immediate Release: January 12, 2007
The administration took a positive step January 11 when it proposed to exempt certain groups of refugees from its “material support” rules, which have barred asylum to anyone who the government says belongs to an armed rebel group or has provided material support to one.
The overly broad definition of ‘terrorist organization’ in recent amendments to the immigration laws has resulted in denying refuge to thousands of deserving refugees overseas and those seeking asylum here.
“We welcome the commitment to set up a process for exempting innocent asylum seekers from these provisions. With thousands of vulnerable refugees stuck in a legal limbo, following through on that commitment should be a top priority,” said Jay Staunton, who works on asylum issues in Washington for Human Rights First.
Even so, “the plan would not address a number of the most significant problems with the law. That’s why Congress must take action. Rather than taking a piecemeal approach through group waivers, Congress should re-write the overly-broad definitions that have resulted in the U.S. treating victims of repression like criminals,” he said.
“Based on the material support bar, for example, the U.S. government denied asylum to a nurse from Colombia who was kidnapped and assaulted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, saying that the medical treatment she was forced to provide constituted ‘material support,’” Staunton said. “That’s certainly not what Congress intended, and the Administration’s proposal would do nothing to prevent such absurd results.”
For more information, see our September 2006 report documenting the impact of this immigration bar on refugees who have sought asylum from political and religious persecution.