Senator Leahy on “material support” bars

In a powerful statement submitted for the Congressional Record on August 5, 2009, Senator Leahy (D-VT) reaffirmed his commitment to “restore common sense” to the bars to refugee and asylum status based on associations with what the Immigration and Nationality Act defines as terrorism, declaring that “the time to end the terrible consequences of these laws is long overdue.”

The definitions of terrorist “activity,” terrorist “organization,” and what constitutes “material support” to a terrorist organization were written so broadly and have been applied so expansively that any individual who provided assistance to any group of two or more people who used armed force against the law of their country is currently deemed to be barred from obtaining any status in the United States. Children who were recruited against their will and forced to undergo military training, doctors (acting in accordance with the Hippocratic oath) who provided medical care to anyone who fought with non-state forces, and those who fought against the armies of repressive governments in their home countries have all been subjected to the immigration law’s “terrorism” bars and barred from obtaining refugee or asylum protection in the United States. These same provisions of the immigration law are also being applied to block the applications for permanent residence or family reunification of an increasing number of asylees and refugees who were already granted protection in the United States. The information these applicants provided in their applications for refugee protection, which was often the basis for granting them that protection, is now being used to block their further integration into the communities where many of them have been living for years.

As Senator Leahy explains in his statement, he has worked for years in partnership with Senator Kyl (R-AZ) to resolve the ongoing, unintended consequences these overly broad definitions have had for refugees and asylum seekers. Human Rights First is grateful to Senators Leahy and Kyl for their work on this important issue and we commend Senator Leahy for affirming his commitment to “work in earnest with the Obama administration to solve this problem once and for all.”

Read Senator Leahy’s full statement.

For more background information, see a recent article in McClatchy Newspapers, “Why are U.S.-allied refugees still branded as ‘terrorists?’,” by Marissa Taylor.

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Published on August 13, 2009

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