Following the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act and the REAL ID Act, an effort to prevent further terrorist invasion of U.S. soil. The Patriot Act extends the material support bar to include fundraising for terrorist groups, and is retroactive towards all aliens whatever their entry date. In addition, a 2001 Department of Justice memorandum states that the Patriot act requires the government to deport an alien for fundraising or recruitment on behalf of a terrorist organization “even if the alien did not intend to fund terrorist activity and/or did not know the organization was a terrorist organization.”
Paul Rosenzweig, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), testified in September before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing that the material support bar “provides absolutely vital protections to American national security.” The bar, he notes, has recently allowed the Department of Homeland Security to deport a Saudi who maintained the website of an Al-Qaeda front group, the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, as well as to deport a financial supporter for the Benevolence International Foundation, a Taliban support group.
Both BIF and CDLR remain unlisted Tier III organizations, and their alien supporters were immune to prosecution prior to the Patriot Act. Rosenzweig believes that these provisions equip the U.S. government “with the means to take offensive against those who fuel the maintenance of the terrorist infrastructure,” and the Act is therefore “an essential weapon of the Administration’s counter-terrorism arsenal.”
However, Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski and other critics consider such measures gratuitous. “We need not undermine our honored traditions and democratic principles in order to achieve security. In fact, we can achieve both with the proper balance,” argues Bishop Wenski. A strong refugee-rights advocate, Bishop Wenski Chairs the International Policy Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, pushing for larger refugee quotas in the United States. He also sympathizes with the plight of illegal immigrants, whom he described in an October 2, 2007 Orlando Sentinel Special as “the faces of millions of men, women and children who, because of the lack of legal remedies to address their immigration status live,[sic] in a fearful limbo with their lives and their futures put indefinitely on hold.” Wenski extends the same humanitarian sympathies to those denied access by the material support bar.
Critics of the waiver process argue that the DHS has been granting material bar exemptions far too slowly. However, the real numbers remain elusive. According to Rosenzweig, more than 3,000 new exemptions have been made since May 2006; since April 2007, 124 duress-based exemptions have been issued. “That’s up from the numbers cited in my testimony, because each day that goes by sees more additional grants,” noted Rosenzweig. Bishop Wenski notes that while 3,000 refugees have been admitted, “442 asylum cases remain on hold, with only 9 waivers for asylees granted.”
Some human rights advocacy groups, such as the radical Human Rights First—a civil rights organization which filed amicus briefs on behalf of alleged dirty bomb builder, Jose Padilla—view the ‘broadly written’ provisions of the Patriot and REAL ID acts as discriminatory toward refugees, who can now be more easily refused access to the United States. Prior to 2007, the U.S. government defined material support to include laundry, medical, or grave-digging services to terrorist subsidiaries— even when performed at gunpoint. Human Rights First representative, Anwen Hughes, argued that the waiver process is largely inefficient, because it places the burden of proof on applicants. “Administrative agencies are not infallible,” she asserts, “and many of the asylum seekers who come before them are unrepresented by counsel and struggle to communicate their stories through inadequate translation” and other barriers. In the case of Colombia, avoiding material support is highly unlikely; Bishop Wenski estimates that 70% of the Colombian population has been forced to offer material support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
However, failing to balance asylum permissiveness with national security can have serious implications, as has been demonstrated by lenient Canadian immigration policies. In 2003, Former Canadian Ambassador Martin Collacott, Senior Fellow at the Frasier Institute, told a Center for Immigration Studies audience that “in the case of Canada our largest problem area has been our system for processing asylum seekers… since this is the channel through which most terrorists have entered Canada.” According to Collacott, the Canadians have “stretched” the definition of refugee so far that a British minor was granted refugee status in 1998 because he feared persecution by his deceased father.
Of course, the Canadian example has some exceptions. In 2006, the Canadian government attempted to deport 20 Coptic Christians because the Immigration & Refugee Board ruled that the refugees did not face a reasonable threat, even though the refugees reported significant, life-threatening religious discrimination.
Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.