Asylum News 46
Material Support Update: DHS Delay Continues, State Department Exempts Some Chin Refugees From Material Support Bar On Thursday, October 19, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that she has exercised her authority under the immigration law to exempt some Burmese Chin refugees living in Malaysia, Thailand, and India from the so-called material support bar. This overly broad bar, and the government’s failure to recognize duress as a defense, has prevented thousands of victims of repression and violence from receiving the protection of this country. The State Department has used its exemption authority on three occasions now, to allow for the resettlement of thousands of Burmese Karen and Chin refugees living abroad who have supported armed groups that resist the Burmese military regime but are being categorized as “terrorist” organizations under the overly broad immigration law provisions. This exemption does not cover thousands of other refugees abroad who still remain at risk. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has still not set up a process for refugees already in the United States to seek an exemption from the bar. In a report issued last month, Human Rights First documented the impact of the material support bar on those who seek asylum in this country. Many refugees have had their asylum requests denied or relegated to a long-term administrative limbo. The time they have spent in immigration jails – or separated from their families – has been prolonged by months or even years. In the United States, the material support bar has impacted several thousand refugees, including more than 565 affirmative asylum cases, 2,300 refugee and asylee adjustment cases, and about 350 applications for asylees and refugees to bring their children and spouses to safety – as well as asylum seekers whose cases are pending before the U.S. immigration courts. To read the State Department’s announcement of the Chin waiver, click here. To read Human Rights First’s report “Abandoning the Persecuted,” click here. Senate Hearings: Refugee Admissions and Material Support On September 27, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship held a hearing on the U.S. refugee resettlement program, covering the issues of refugee admissions and the impact of the material support bar. Father Ken Gavin of the Jesuit Refugee Service testified on behalf of the Refugee Council USA. Also testifying was Michael J. Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, who stated that the administration has, for more than two years, construed the material support bar “in a manner that has caused stunned consternation on the part of liberals and conservatives, religious and human rights leaders and Congressional leaders from both parties.” The Department of Justice appeared to argue in favor of the broad immigration-law definitions relating to material support. In a written statement for the hearing, Rachel L. Brand, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, urged that exemptions be decided by the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security in “their sole and unreviewable discretion,” allowing “for the broadest consideration of all factors relevant to the case – the foreign policy considerations, the counter-terrorist strategy considerations, the immigration considerations and the litigation risks.” Read the testimonies submitted by Father Ken Gavin and Michael J. Horowitz. Read the written testimony submitted by Human Rights First. Read the statements of committee members Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).