Tuesday, January 23, 2007

DHS rethinks "material support" laws

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced a policy change to permit certain immigrants to become asylees or refugees who were previously prohibited from doing so under national security laws on the grounds that they had provided material support to terrorist groups abroad. The laws had the perverse effect of prohibiting many victims of terrorist groups from seeking refuge in the U.S. For instance, if a victim had been forced under threat of death to feed or shelter guerillas, she could for that reason be denied asylum, detained, and deported back to her home country.

The exemption applies to material support provided to specific resistance groups operating in Myanmar, Tibet, and Cuba. In addition, Secretary Michael Chertoff will exercise discretion in allowing asylum applications from people who (1) have provided material support under duress and(/or) (2) who do not represent a public safety or national security risk to the U.S. (It’s not clear from Secretary Chertoff’s statement whether applicants must meet both conditions or only one to qualify for the exemption.

See here for more.

This is a promising development, and is the result of lobbying efforts by a broad range of religious and human rights groups. But limiting the scope of the exemption to three countries plus those whom DHS decides merit it strikes me as a potentially incomplete solution. As always with this administration, the devil is in the details of implementation. But this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Also encouraging was Bush’s continued push for comprehensive immigration reform in tonight’s State of the Union address.

Immigration advocates think this is the year to make it happen. I hope so.

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