Asylum News 49
Material Support Update: Progress for Some Asylum Seekers; Process Still Unknown The administration announced on January 11 a plan to address the impact on asylum seekers and refugees of the “material support” bar. Thousands of asylum requests and related immigration applications have been put on hold or denied under the sweeping immigration definitions relating to “material support” to armed groups and “terrorist organizations.” Thousands of refugees seeking resettlement have also been affected. As part of this plan, the Department of Homeland Security announced its intent – for the first time – to use its authority to exempt some asylum seekers and others in the United States from the “material support” bar. These exemptions will not, however, cover all of the affected refugees and asylum seekers – including those who have been victimized by designated “terrorist organizations.” To learn more about the scope of these exemptions and DHS’s plan to develop a procedure for seeking exemptions, click here. The administration has also announced that it will seek legislation from Congress to allow it to exempt other groups, for example, to allow for the resettlement of combatants and members of armed groups that have supported U.S. forces. The administration’s legislative proposal would not, however, correct the flawed language of the immigration law definitions that label innocent people as supporters of “terrorist organizations.” Human Rights First has urged that the underlying definitions be fixed so that these issues will be addressed more fairly, effectively, and appropriately. Human Rights First will continue to urge DHS to move forward to exempt other eligible asylum seekers, including refugees who have been victimized by violent groups in Colombia and Nepal. To read DHS’s press release, click here. To read HRF’s press release, click here. To read recent press (compiled by Refugee Council USA) highlighting concern for refugees by leading conservative groups, faith groups, and refugee advocates, click here. The plight of these refugees is detailed in Human Rights First’s report Abandoning the Persecuted: Victims of Terrorism and Oppression Barred From Asylum. Material Support: Leading Cases and Amicus Briefs The case of a Burmese woman who was found to be in danger of torture if returned to Burma, but was denied asylum because of the “material support” bar, is now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Board of Immigration Appeals had ruled that she was not entitled to asylum under the bar. Human Rights First and other groups have filed amicus briefs in support of the refugee’s case, known as S-K- v. Gonzales. To read the amicus brief filed by Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, and the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program’s International Human Rights Clinic, with the pro bono assistance of the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, click here. Refugee Council USA also filed an amicus brief in the case. In a case pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals, DHS is arguing that a Nepali health professional who was kidnapped by Maoist rebels and forced to provide medical aid to injured rebels provided “material support” to the group. Physicians for Human Rights has filed an amicus brief in the case. The brief stresses that the DHS position – that a healthcare worker engages in “terrorist activity” by providing medical treatment – is unprecedented and fundamentally conflicts with principles of medical ethics as well as the Geneva Conventions and their two Additional Protocols. To read the brief and PHR’s press release, click here. Detention of Asylum Seekers: Two-Year Anniversary of USCIRF Report Approaches February 8, 2007, will mark the two-year anniversary of the release of a comprehensive report from the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The report found that asylum seekers are detained inappropriately in prison-like facilities, and that release procedures vary widely across the country. It made a series of recommendations for reform – many of which have not yet been implemented by DHS. The Commission will conduct a briefing at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and will report on the implementation of its recommendations by DHS and the Department of Justice. DHS Releases Long-Awaited Report on Immigration Detention On January 16, the DHS Office of the Inspector General released a report on the first-ever government audit of federal immigration detention practices. OIG visited five immigration detention facilities – the U.S.-owned and -operated Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, a contract Corrections Corporation of America facility in San Diego, and local jails and prisons in Berks County, Pennsylvania, and Hudson and Passaic counties, New Jersey. To read the OIG report, click here. On January 25, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild announced that they, along with six other immigrant rights organizations and eighty-four immigration detainees, will formally petition DHS to issue regulations, under the Administrative Procedures Act, governing detention standards for immigration detainees. To read the press release, click here. The American Friends Service Committee in New Jersey, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other New York and New Jersey advocacy groups have endorsed the petition. To read their press release, click here. To read the Washington Post (1/17/07) on the OIG report, click here. To listen to National Public Radio (1/19/07), click here.