7-31-2012By Annie Sovcik
Refugee Protection Program
The Obama administration has taken its latest step to mitigate the harm to refugees caused by the way U.S. immigration laws define “terrorist organizations” and “terrorist” activity. On July 16th, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that certain inadmissibility grounds will not apply to applicants on the basis of activities and associations with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
The notice details the grounds that will not apply:
- Solicitation of funds or members for the KLA
- Receipt of military-type training from or on behalf of the KLA
- Material support to the KLA.
For several years, due to the statutory definitions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 212(a)(3)(B) and expansive interpretations, U.S. immigration officials have mislabeled as “terrorists” people who have no real-life connection to terrorism. As a result, more than 4,600 refugees, asylum seekers, asylees and their families have applications for asylum, refugee resettlement, permanent residence and/or family reunification on hold. DHS only puts cases “on hold” after making a determination that the applicant does not pose a risk to U.S. national security or danger to the community.
Over four years ago, Congress—in a bi-partisan effort led by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ)—amended the law to authorize the Administration to exempt persons with no connection to terrorism from being barred. It is under this authority that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano signed the most recent exemption for the KLA, which will affect approximately 50-60 of the 4,600-plus cases on hold.
Despite this progress, the overall exemption process continues to move at a glacial pace. Since September 2009, DHS has authorized exemptions with respect to only six of the over 400 such groups it has identified in its caseload: the KLA, the Iraqi National Congress, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front, and the All-India Sikh Student Federation—Bittu Faction. Several other similar exemptions remain tangled in an interagency process among the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and Department of State. The process is going group-by-group or country-by-country with very few results over the past four years.
Exemptions allow applications to be taken off hold and adjudicated on an individual basis. For all applications eligible for exemption consideration, several “threshold requirements” must first be satisfied. For example, the individual must be otherwise eligible for the benefit or protection being sought, undergo/pass background and security checks, establish s/he does not pose a danger to the safety and security of the United States and warrant an exemption in the “totality of the circumstances.” For a full list of the threshold requirements, see the Federal Registrar notice.
In June 2012 a diverse coalition of NGOs sent a letter calling on President Obama to “allow people to prove—and in the case of refugees and asylees already living in the United States, prove again—that they pose no threat to the security of the United States, so that refugees can find safety, families are no longer needlessly divided, and long-term, law-abiding residents of the United States can finally have their cases resolved.”