pageok
pageok
pageok
Left & Right Raise Refugee Concerns:

Today's Washington Post has a story about how some conservatives are waking up to the unintended consequences of efforts to keep potential terrorists and their supporters out of the country.

Conservatives who supported President Bush's reelection have joined liberal groups in expressing outrage over his administration's broad use of anti-terrorism laws to reject asylum for thousands of people seeking refuge from religious, ethnic and political persecution.

The critics say the administration's interpretation of provisions mandating denial of asylum to individuals who give "material support" to terrorist groups is so broad that foreigners who fought alongside U.S. forces in wars such as Vietnam can be denied asylum on the grounds that they provided aid to terrorists.

What these conservatives are discovering is that the problems of bureaucratic tunnel vision are not limited to "liberal" programs. What some conservatives decry as "ludicrous" applications of the relevant laws are an extension of the relevant legal provisions by a bureaucracy that has every incentive to keep potentially unwanted people out, even at the expense of not letting desirable refugees in.

The story reports that incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy has expressed interest in examining the issue.

If there are hearings in the Senate, Paul Rosenzweig, chairman of a Homeland Security advisory committee, could be called to testify. He said he is prepared to answer questions about why the department has not acted on complaints to grant waivers to people who, some say, clearly are not terrorists.

"I will completely own up to wishing we had done more, but it's a big department," he said. In the past year, the department broadened a waiver that allowed more ethnic Burmese refugees into the country, and it is in the process of broadening a waiver for Hmong and Montagnard guerrillas who fought for the United States.

The United States must be careful to not allow terrorists into the country, while fulfilling its promise to harbor the persecuted, Rosenzweig said. "It's a difficult problem," he said. "It isn't as easy as some might wish to balance the security risks that come with this and the humanitarian impulse."

Al Maviva (mail) (www):
"I was persecuted for my political and religious beliefs."

"What did they entail?"

"Making holy war on all who disagree with my religious beliefs, and enforcing the death penalty against thieves, idolaters, or those who refuse to wear beards."

"Okay. You were persecuted for religious reasons. C'mon in."

This is a hard, complex policy question and we're probably about to get a really simple and nice sounding answer. Asylum status is fertile grounds for immigration fraud since it's easy to pretend, to a stranger, that you are a member of a persecuted political or religious group. (There are also women's advocacy groups that are urging spousal abuse as grounds for asylum). An imprudent easing of standards here will likely be met with sad tales of woe, terrorism, murder and fraud committed by those who should not have been admitted to the country in the first place - albeit it will probably take a couple years for the unintended consequences to become well known. I'm not suggesting that the practice of granting asylum should be done away with, just that caution should be exercised here, and that any simple and nice sounding solutions bubbling out of Congress will probably cause as many problems as they solve. The table is set for such a resolution when you hear the word "bipartisan." No Child Left Behind, or Campaign Finance Reform, anyone?
1.8.2007 8:47am
PersonFromPorlock:
Why is this necessarily an unintended consequence? From the standpoint of bureaucrats who are more concerned with order than virtue, anyone who has a history of supporting violence against any government is a potential risk.

'Persecuted' is one thing, 'willing to fight back' is another.
1.8.2007 8:52am
AK (mail):
I'm a conservative, and I'm in favor of a fairly generous refugee program, just as I'm in favor of a fairly generous immigration program generally. If someone comes here as a refugee, immigrant, guest worker, or on a student visa, we know who he is and, in theory, we can keep an eye on him. But with the southern border being so incredibly porous, there's no reason for a terrorist to risk detection by using legal routes into the US.

Secure the borders. Allow workers, students, immigrants, and refugees in. Keep close tabs on all of the above until they meet rigorous citizenship requirements.
1.8.2007 9:09am
Jeremy T:
This is what happens when you define the enemy as "terrorism," a concept, as opposed to "violent Islam," an identifiable set of people and organizations.

Letting pro-American terrorists in the country is fine with me. (Seriously.)
1.8.2007 9:59am
Katherine:
Keeping out actual terrorists is fine. The problem is interpreting "material support" to include paying ransom to free your relative, providing the most minimal food or forced labor at shelter gunpoint to the rebels, etc.--this has gotten applied to exclude people who are the victims of horrendous atrocities of terrorist groups: rape and torture victims. Also, while I normally have no patience with arguments that "one man's terrorist is another's man's freedom fighter," under this law "terrorist organization" is defined broadly enough, under the administration's interpretation, that there is no QUESTION that George Washington would qualify.

Obviously, a solution would have to be worded carefully, but it is entirely possible, and a lot simpler that DHS would suggest. DHS likes unlimited prosecutorial discretion to not allow people into or deport people out of the country, and case by case waivers. But it is possible to draft a standard that makes sense in the first place.

Please do not shut off your brain when you see the word "terrorism". (as the U.S. Congress did last time it debated this question--Arlen Specter claimed that the changes refugee advocates would require us to admit members of Hamas into the United States. Specter later admitted that this was blatantaly false but by then the Senate had voted.)
1.8.2007 11:59am
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
The real issue isn't so much about how material support to terrorism is defined (though that contributes), as it is detecting immigration fraud. True asylum seekers often do show up with false documents and squirelly stories about how they came to a port of entry - just like fraudulent asylum seekers. Not terribly long ago, the Canadian government busted a large ring of Salafists who were studying Shiia Islam, in order to pose as persecuted Shiites from a Sunni country. The value of obtaining legal papers, as opposed to simply walking across the border, lies in the operational freedom it gives to the individual who got here legally, as well as a strong ability to fight deportation efforts.
1.8.2007 12:29pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
This is what happens when you define the enemy as "terrorism," a concept, as opposed to "violent Islam," an identifiable set of people and organizations.

Letting pro-American terrorists in the country is fine with me. (Seriously.)
In the abstract, perhaps. But it makes it rather more difficult to convince other countries to help us round up anti-American terrorists when we harbor the pro-American ones.
1.8.2007 1:29pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
What these conservatives are discovering is that the problems of bureaucratic tunnel vision are not limited to "liberal" programs. What some conservatives decry as "ludicrous" applications of the relevant laws are an extension of the relevant legal provisions by a bureaucracy that has every incentive to keep potentially unwanted people out, even at the expense of not letting desirable refugees in.


Yes and that's precisely the way it should be. Our nation's immigration policies are or ought to be designed to promote what's best for the citizens of the United States first and foremost. After 9/11 in particular the priority ought to be screening potential terrorists from being admitted to the nation. Considerations about what might be best for someone claiming to be a refugee who may or may not turn out to be a criminal or terrorist are at best secondary to the protection of the citizens of this country. If the government is going to err, it ought to do so based on being overly cautious rather than overly liberal in who it admits as a "refugee."
1.8.2007 2:47pm
KevinM:
Letting in "pro-American terrorists" has another problem -- the definition shifts as our allegiances do. Probably Osama bin Laden or members of Saddam's Revolutionary Guards would have been eligible in the 1980s.
1.8.2007 3:33pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Letting in "pro-American terrorists" has a third problem. They might decide to commit terrorism against their enemies in the US, resulting in bombs going off in American cities and other threats to public safety. (An example of this is an event that should have given all the conservatives who praised Pinochet some pause-- the bombing and assassination of Orlando Latelier in Washington, D.C.)
1.8.2007 7:14pm
PersonFromPorlock:

...the bombing and assassination of Orlando Latelier in Washington, D.C.

That wasn't terrorism, though, nor would violence aimed at enemies be. The word "terrorism" is predictably beginning to suffer from mission creep.
1.8.2007 8:15pm