In 2001, Congress enacted legislation that significantly broadened the definition of “terrorist activity.” Because the definition was so broad, it encompassed some activities that have no real-life connection to terrorism. Many refugees seeking safety—including those with family already in the United States—were barred from entering the U.S., and many refugees and asylees already offered protection and living in the U.S. were barred from obtaining green cards and reuniting with family members. These people, and in many cases their spouses and children, now languish in limbo largely because of the failure of U.S. agencies to promulgate rules or adopt procedures that Congress clearly contemplated would be rapidly issued when it passed reform legislation in 2007. This limbo status causes refugees, asylees and asylum seekers to remain on “hold” with no ability to prove their non-terrorist status. They continue to face endless delays and even the possibility of being deported. Many have been needlessly separated from their spouses and children for many years and have little hope of reuniting with their families in safety.
A bipartisan coalition in Congress led by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) amended the law in 2007 to authorize the Administration to exempt persons with no actual connection to terrorism from the broad anti-terrorism provisions in our immigration laws. Despite this progress, more than 4,700 refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. seeking green cards or seeking to bring close family members to the U.S. are on “hold” because their applications reveal that they may fall within the broad definition of “material support” or other activity related to “terrorism.”
In February 2014, the Secretary of Homeland Security and Secretary of State announced discretionary exemptions from the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds. These exemptions are expected to benefit vulnerable Syrian refugees who have fled the ongoing civil war, including women and children, as well as persons previously granted asylum or refugee status whose later applications for permanent residency or family reunification have been held up for years because of the overly-broad provisions.
- Op-Ed in The Hill, "Broad Terrorism Policies Unfairly Target Victims," - February 13, 2014
- Press Release: HIAS Applauds New Common Sense Approach to Terrorism Inadmissibility Grounds for Refugees - February 6, 2014
- Sign-on Letter to Secretary Napolitano asking her to take action on TRIG issues before she leaves office – August 23, 2013