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June 20, 2006

Asylum News 42

Dear Colleagues, IMGToday, June 20, is World Refugee Day. The United Nations has designated this day to express solidarity and support for refugees all over the globe. Here in the United States, local groups and refugee communities are holding events and celebrations. And in Washington, D.C., senior government officials will mark the occasion with speeches to affirm this country's commitment to protecting those who flee from persecution. Yet across the country, refugees are still jailed in prison-like detention centers. The Department of Homeland Security has still not implemented the reforms recommended, over a year ago, by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. And refugees who do not support terrorism are being barred from this country’s protection due to sweeping provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act and REAL ID Act that bar from asylum those who have provided "material support" to broadly defined "terrorist" organizations. To find out how your community is commemorating World Refugee Day, click here. Launch of International Detention Coalition At a briefing yesterday morning in Washington, D.C., faith-based and other refugee advocacy organizations - including Human Rights First - outlined the difficulties that refugees face in immigration detention and announced the launch of the International Coalition on the Detention of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants. This new coalition brings together more than 100 non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups, and others working around the world to provide legal, social, medical, and other services to refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers. The coalition promotes the application of human rights standards to detention. Its steering committee includes Jesuit Refugee Services, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the World Council of Churches, and Human Rights First. The Refugee Council USA and Detention Watch Network coodinated the press briefing and the launch of the coalition in the U.S. For more information on the International Detention Coalition, and how to join, please visit www.idcoalition.org. Material Support: Board Issues Precedent Decision The Board of Immigration Appeals, in a June 8, 2006, decision, ruled that a Chin Christian woman from Burma was barred from asylum because donations she made to the Chin National Front, which uses arms to oppose the Burmese military regime, constituted “material support” to a terrorist organization. "We are finding that a Christian member of the ethnic Chin minority in Burma, who clearly has a well-founded fear of being persecuted by one of the more repressive governments in the world, one that the United States Government views as illegitimate, is ineligible to avail herself of asylum in the United States despite posing no threat to the security of this county," wrote the Board's Acting Vice Chair, Juan P. Osuna, in a concurring opinion. He added that "it is difficult to conclude that this is what Congress intended," but found that the statutory language mandated that she be barred from asylum. The Department of Homeland Security has detained this 46-year-old Burmese woman for nearly two years now in an immigration jail in El Paso, Texas - even though she could be paroled to the care of family living in Florida. Months ago, DHS conceded her risk of torture, and the Board panel granted her deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture. The Board noted that the Secretary of DHS could waive the application of the bar in her case. However, the Department has repeatedly advised that it has not set up a waiver procedure for asylum applicants. Not only has it become clear that a waiver system would be unworkable, but many deserving refugees would not be covered by the waiver authority in the law. For more information on material support and refugees, click here. If you are an attorney representing an asylum seeker affected by the material support bar, please contact our staff attorney at hughesa@humanrightsfirst.org. To read the Board’s decision, click here.