Putting it in Perspective: Partisan Fighters and American Policies

Posted by Jeremy Hiken on Thu, May 03, 2012 at 16:49 pm

The Holocaust is unquestionably one of the greatest tragedies both in Jewish and human history. Yet from its pain and destruction we hear stories of bravery and heroism. For example, the Bielski Otriad was formed by Tuvia Bielski, a Polish Jew who fled to the forest with his brothers after seeing his parents killed and his home destroyed. Not only did the group include fighters, but it also included children and the elderly. Under Bielski’s leadership, the community developed a school, workshop, medical care, and even a synagogue – something which exemplifies not only the group’s will to survive, but also its determination to keep Judaism alive in spite of the terrible circumstances.

One of the members of Bielski’s unit was Vitka Kovner. When the Nazis took over Lithuania in 1941, Kovner joined the group, ultimately carrying out a mission in which her unit poisoned a camp of SS soldiers. After the war, she immigrated to Israel, where she lived until passing away in February.

Under the U.S. Government’s policies on Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds (TRIG), enacted as part of the USA Patriot Act in 2001 and in effect today, Vitka Kovner would have been classified as having engaged in terrorist activity. TRIG forbids “persons who have engaged in ‘terrorist activity,’ members of ‘terrorist organizations,’ persons who have received ‘military-type training’ from such organizations or persons who endorse or espouse ‘terrorist activity’ or persuade others to endorse or espouse a ‘terrorist organization,’ as well as the spouses and children of persons inadmissible under these provisions” from entering the US. “Terrorist activity” includes any illegal use of weapons or dangerous devices for reasons other than monetary gain, or supporting such activity. Kovner would definitely be a terrorist under today’s definition.

Even in today’s post-9/11 world, Kovner’s circumstances prove that TRIG has gone overboard. Kovner’s valiant acts of so-called “terrorism” were carried against a brutal regime, one which the United States eventually fought against. Today, had she decided to move to America, Kovner – who should have received a medal – would have received a denial notice for her actions instead.

As Americans, we all agree that our country is safer when it enacts laws to keep out real terrorists. Not only are there serious concerns about TRIG’s effectiveness, but our lawmakers must also be cognizant of the law’s unintended consequences – that TRIG has adversely impacted people who have participated in legitimate acts of resistance. Congress must differentiate between acts of terrorism and acts of legitimate resistance.

Fortunately, refugee organizations such as HIAS have made progress on this issue, having helped win 14,000 exemptions for people who should not have been caught up in this law. However, more than 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently in the US still face an uncertain future. Hopefully, these people will be treated fairly and get the protection they deserve.

For more information on Terrorism Related Inadmissibility Grounds, please click here.

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