Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

PATRIOT Act's broad definitions of "terror organization" and "material support" endanger refugees

Report on Material Support Briefing Regarding Refugees

Presented by Representative Joseph Pitts, R-Pennsylvania

The focus of this briefing is a much needed change in the language of the PATRIOT Act and REAL ID Act that so sweepingly defines “terrorist organization” and “material support” that many refugees are denied legitimate asylum. The two topics of discussion surrounded what is defined as a third tier terrorist organization in these Acts, and how broadly the term “material support” has been applied in relation to these organizations.

Both of these Acts use a very broad definition to determine if someone is associated with or aided a “terrorist” group. The Acts use three tiers to name terror organizations, the third of which is the cause for the most concern. There was no discussion of the two tiers which consist of specifically named foreign terrorist organizations whose members and active supporters may also not legally emigrate to the U.S. A third tier terrorist organization is defined as two or more individuals, not necessarily organized, who engage in terrorist-type activities such as recruiting or soliciting for terror groups, hijacking, kidnapping, and assassination, and “any activity that is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed.” 8 USCA §1182(3)(B)(iii). Under this very broad definition, there are many organizations supported by the U.S. government that actively defy local law through anti-governmental rallies and resistance. The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, anti-communist protestors in Cuba, the Montagnards who fought with U.S. Special Forces and the C.I.A. in Vietnam, and Karen National Union, the pro-democracy movement in Burma. By the PATRIOT Act’s wording, the American taxpayers support “terrorist organizations” through government assistance to pro-democracy groups. As noted by one of the presenters, Pope John Paul II would not be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. now based on his anti-Nazi activities.

The PATRIOT Act and REAL ID Act also do not allow refugees who have given aid to terrorist organizations, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the aid. While the intent of these acts is to keep terrorists and their supporters from entering and settling in the U.S., many refugees were forced to aid such organizations and are not given asylum on account of this. Some examples include a Liberian woman who was forced to cook and do the laundry of LURD rebels, two Sierra Leone women who were held captive by rebels occupying their home, a Colombian woman whose cattle were taken by guerrillas, and a young Colombian man forced to dig mass graves for paramilitaries. All of these individuals were denied asylum in the United States because they offered “material support” to terrorist organizations. In many of these cases, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cleared the refugees for resettlement, but the U.S. government’s extremely strict and overly broad anti-terrorism laws made immigration impossible.

In any of these cases, a waiver may be granted by the U.S. government. This has happened only once and it took months to be approved. Such case-by-case waivers are not practical for the refugees whose lives are often in danger; only a revision of the Acts’ definitions denying asylum and resettlement is practical considering the large number of individuals potentially impacted.

Presenters for Representative Pitt included Jennifer Daskal from Human Rights Watch, Ann Buwalda of Jubilee Campaign, Michael Benge, advisor to the Montagnard Human Rights Organization, and Kevin Appleby from the Office of Migration and Refugee Policy, Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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