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US anti-terrorism laws turning away valid refugee claimants: rights group

[JURIST] More than 18,000 refugees have been unfairly denied permanent residency or asylum [press release] in the US due to the expanding definition of "terrorist activity" in the USA Patriot Act [text, PDF; JURIST news archive] and Real ID Act [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], according to a report [text, PDF] released Wednesday by Human Rights First (HRF) [advocacy website]. The report specifically cites the widening definitions of "terrorist organization" and "material support" and their strict application by federal immigration agencies since 2001 as the reasons individuals "[posing] no threat to American security" have been affected. Under the current interpretation of these laws, persons may fall within such categories on a number of bases, including ties to US-supported opposition groups or actions considered legal under international law. The report's author, Anwen Hughes, said:

These were not the people Congress intended to target. In fact many of these refugees supported the same causes the United States supports, or were victimized by forces the U.S. government also opposes. But attempts to solve this problem through piecemeal "waiver" announcements are not working.

In an effort to address the issue, agencies began reviewing the unique merits of individual requests four years ago, though the Department of Homeland Security [official website] has placed more than 7,500 cases on indefinite hold. HRF urged Congress and the Obama administration to "take a thorough and even-handed approach to address the roots of this problem."

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] approved legislation to reauthorize three sections of the USA Patriot Act, shortly after receiving word [JURIST reports] of the Obama administration's support. The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11 [JURIST news archive], addresses a vast array of national security issues and has faced extensive criticism related to civil rights concerns [JURIST report]. In June, US Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) [official website] introduced a bill to revise and enhance the Real ID Act [JURIST report]. Intending to discourage illegal immigration by increasing the requirements to obtain government-issued IDs, the act first passed in 2005 [JURIST report] despite significant opposition. State Department [official website] officials testified in 2006 that anti-terrorism legislation had resulted in a 23 percent reduction [JURIST report] in refugees admitted to the US.

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