FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Patriots, Refugees and Terrorists

by JOANNE MARINER

“Was George Washington a terrorist?” asked Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch’s refugee policy director, only semi-facetiously.

What sparked his question was the exceedingly broad definition of terrorist activity employed in U.S. immigration law. That definition, as expanded in the USA PATRIOT Act and REAL ID Act, applies to “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed,” when that activity involves the use of a weapon or “dangerous device” with the intent “to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.” The actions of a present-day George Washington would most certainly be covered.

A concrete reason why this broad definition is worrying is that under current U.S. law, people who have engaged in terrorist activities, or who have provided support for terrorist activities–in many cases, even involuntary support–are presumptively barred from resettlement in the United States as refugees. Among the thousands of people negatively affected by this rule in recent years have been Colombians who paid small bribes under duress to paramilitary groups, Burmese who were forcibly conscripted into rebel armies, and Cubans who supported “counter-revolutionary” groups funded by the US government.

The patent unfairness of this broad ban has garnered congressional attention and, as of last year, the problem was supposed to have been remedied. In December, Congress passed legislation that broadened executive authority to grant waivers to deserving refugees who would otherwise be barred under the law’s overly broad “terrorism”-related bans.

Yet the reform does not seem to have worked. In recent months it has become clear that, despite the changes in the terms of the law, the Department of Homeland Security is continuing to bar refugees who should benefit from the expanded waiver authority. These people have fled their countries to escape persecution, and they’re being told that they’re terrorists. What is going on?

Democrats and Mujahideen

Since the December amendments to the immigration laws, a number of refugees have received letters from the Department of Homeland Security informing them that they are being denied permanent residence in the United States because of facts that they stated on their applications for refugee status.

Among those who have received such letters are:

. Iraqi refugees who took part in failed efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the 1990s;

. Afghans who supported the mujahideen groups that fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, including groups that the United States funded;

. Sudanese who belonged to the Democratic Unionist Party, a democratic party opposed to the current Sudanese government and a partner in U.S. negotiations in the region.

In rejecting these people’s applications for permanent residence, DHS is relying on facts that, in many cases, were fully disclosed in their initial refugee applications. Circumstances that, in other words, were deemed acceptable under what were supposed to be tougher rules are now being relied upon to bar people from staying in the United States. In some instances, moreover, the department appears to be characterizing First-Amendment-protected speech as support of terrorism.

Politicians and Bureaucrats

Although the omnibus appropriations bill that was passed by Congress last December was lauded as an important immigration law reform, the officials at the Department of Homeland Security charged with implementing the new rules don’t seem to have gotten the message. Before too many deserving refugees are barred from the United States as terrorists, there needs to be clear and authoritative guidance from on high.

Senior DHS officials need to review the rules being applied in these cases to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security is actually implementing the statutory waiver authority that it has been granted. Congress has spoken and the law has changed: “Terrorism”-related immigration bans should not be applied to refugees who do not pose any threat to the United States.

In the longer term, of course, the law’s definition of terrorism should be narrowed to reflect a more meaningful, common-sense understanding of the term. While expanding DHS’s waiver authority was a step forward, it is still absurd that a present-day George Washington would require a waiver to settle in the United States.

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights attorney.

 

 

 

 

 

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer living in New York and Paris.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 24, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
Eoin Higgins
Did OJ Simpson Suffer Brain Trauma from Football?
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
Russell Mokhiber
Save the Patients, Cut Off the Dick!
Steven M. Druker
The Deceptions of the GE Food Venture
Elliot Sperber
Clean, Green, Class War: Bill McKibben’s Shortsighted ‘War on Climate Change’
Binoy Kampmark
Claims of Exoneration: The Case of Slobodan Milošević
Walter Brasch
The Contradictions of Donald Trump
Michael Donnelly
Body Shaming Trump: Statue of Limitations
Weekend Edition
August 19, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Hillary and the War Party
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Prime Time Green
Andrew Levine
Hillary Goes With the Flow
Dave Lindorff
New York Times Shames Itself by Attacking Wikileaks’ Assange
Gary Leupp
Could a Russian-Led Coalition Defeat Hillary’s War Plans?
Conn Hallinan
Dangerous Seas: China and the USA
Joshua Frank
Richard Holbrooke and the Obama Doctrine
Margaret Kimberley
Liberal Hate for the Green Party
John Davis
Lost Peoples of the Lake
Alex Richardson-Price
The Fight for a Six Hour Workday
John Wight
Why Palestine Matters, Even on the Pitch
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail