Friday, March 17, 2006

Refugees and Material Support

Issue: Material Support

These provisions redefining terrorist activity and “material support” to such organizations are being applied to two important categories of refugees. One group consists of those who have provided supplies or money to armed groups that have opposed dictatorships. A second group consists of those who have been forced to provide money, including ransom, to armed groups. Both groups may be denied refugee status, sometimes for the very same reasons that made them flee persecution.

These are some of the effects of the current interpretation of “material support”:

• More asylum seekers are determined to be ineligible—the burden of proof is on the applicant who must meet high credibility and corroboration standards.
• More asylees are denied adjustmentto legal permanent residency and naturalization because of previous “material support.”
• Thousands of refugees are denied resettlementto the United States. UNHCR has temporarily suspended the referral of Burmese refugees in Malaysia and Thailand to the U.S. resettlement program. We are also concerned about the situation of Colombians and other groups who may either have been forced to provide money, or provided minimal support to armed groups.

Victims of Interpretation

This issue is difficult to understand. Of course none of us wants terrorists or terrorist supporters to come to the United States! But the following stories illustrate howvulnerable people, themselves victims of terror, are being denied help and protectionunder current interpretations of material support provisions in U.S. law:

In Colombia, a farmer’s family was terrorized by members of the leftist guerilla group FARC. The guerillas ultimately demanded money, and when the farmer could not come up with enough money, the guerillas took livestock from the farm, brutally beat and raped the man’s wife and her sister, and shot and killed him. The survivors reported the murder to the police, but when they realized that no action was being taken against the perpetrators, the woman fled to Ecuador where she had relatives. This woman and her sister were resettled in Canada, because the United States refused to help them because farm animals turned over to the armed militia under duress were deemed to be “material support” under U.S. law.

A Burmese family allowed several members of a pro-democracy group stay in their home for two nights while fighting the Burmese dictatorship. Because this group was armed, the United States denied the family refugee resettlement for having offered “material assistance” to a “foreign terrorist organization” even though it is fighting a brutal government the United States opposes.


Please urge your representative and President Bush to do the following:

• Restore the protection of the United States for deserving refugees and asylum seekers.
• Establish a process for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers whose “material support” is made under duress or is involuntary, inadvertent or insignificant.
• Institute a waiver program or other means by which exceptions can be made for deserving refugees and otherwise eligible resettlement populations such as the Burmese refugees in Thailand, Malaysia and India.
• Make it clear that it is not Congress’ intent to bar deserving refugees through material support provisions.

If you prefer to call, you can reach your representative via the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202/224-3121, and the White House at 202/456-1111.

If you prefer to write, visit the House website to find your representative's fax numbers (you can also look up your representative's name if you are unsure of it. You can fax the president at 202/456-2461. Use our sample letters for representatives and for the president as the basis for your own correspondence. Click here for general tips on writing to elected officials.


When you speak with your member of Congress, make sure tomention the following points on material support:

• The United States must create a process for dealing with refugees, asylum seekers and asylees whose “material support” was given under duress or is involuntary, inadvertent or insignificant.The “material support” provisions should be applied only to those who intend to harm our country, not to deserving refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. For many of these vulnerable populations, the very circumstances that form the basis of their refugee or asylum claim have been interpreted to make them ineligible for refugee or asylum status in the United States.
• A waiver program or other means of exception is needed for populations such as the Burmese refugees.Freedom fighters resisting brutal, totalitarian governments that are condemned by the United States must not be penalized when their resistance leads to persecution. We must not turn away the very people who have a history of working with the United States to advance democracy throughout the world.
• The president needs to hear the intent of Congress not to bar deserving refugees and asylum seekers through material support provisions.The legitimate aim of the USA PATRIOT Act and the REAL ID Act to protect U.S. citizens from those who seek to hurt us must not be interpreted to apply to refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution.

Thank you!

We appreciate your taking the time to make your voice heard on this vital issue.

For more information on the policy and advocacy work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, please visit our website.

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