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Home / 2013 / 08 / 29 / Human Rights, Faith-Based Groups Urge Napolitano to Take Action for Refugees before Leaving Office
August 29, 2013

Human Rights, Faith-Based Groups Urge Napolitano to Take Action for Refugees before Leaving Office

As Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano prepares to leave her position next month, numerous faith-based and human rights organizations are calling on her to finally resolve a problem that has caused uncertainty and pain for many refugees.

Thousands of refugees remain stuck in legal limbo by immigration law definitions of “terrorism” that are widely acknowledged to be harming the very refugees the United States has committed to protect. Two years ago, the administration pledged to “significantly reduce” the number of cases that were on hold by the end of fiscal year 2012, but so far this hasn’t happened. Secretary Napolitano has the ability to change this by taking several steps before she leaves her post, including signing additional group exemptions – many of which have been under consideration for months or even years.

Human Rights First and 57 leading faith-based, humanitarian, and refugee-serving organizations, as well as prominent law professors, recently sent a letter to Secretary Napolitano urging her finally to clear this unfinished work from her desk before she leaves her position.  “The principles of fairness and family unity should be applied to these refugees and asylees, who were admitted to this country legally and have been waiting for as long as ten years to obtain permanent resident status with their spouses and children,” the letter stated.

The signatories urged Secretary Napolitano to use the authority given to her by Congress to once and for all fix this problem for the thousands of refugees and asylees who have been mislabeled as “terrorists.” As detailed in two reports issued by Human Rights First, overbroad definitions and interpretations of the terms “terrorist organization” and “terrorist activity” in U.S. immigration law have ensnared people with no real connection to terrorism.

The groups also urge Secretary Napolitano to ensure that DHS completes a long-pending review of how it interprets the term “material support.”  The department currently uses the term “material support” to bar immigrants who may have made infinitesimal donations and acts bearing no relation to violent activities – all because there is no sensible interpretation of the term. This misuse of “material support” far too frequently creates unintended victims of a law that was intended to protect the United States from terrorism.  This problem has been under review for close to two years now and urgently requires resolution.

The signatories of last week’s letter included leaders from Human Rights First, the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Human Rights Watch, among others.

Resources and Recommendations

Challenges & Recommendations: Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds for Refugees and Asylees (TRIG), Refugee Council USA

Report: Denial and Delay: The Impact of the Immigration Law's "Terrorism Bars" on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the United States, Human Rights First

Backgrounder: Bars and Security Screening in the Asylum and Refugee Process, Human Rights First