U.S. Bishops: Faulty Wording Victimizes Refugees

Urge Senate Panel to Revisit Definitions of Terrorism

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WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- U.S. bishops say that an attempt to protect their country against terrorists has gone awry due to misinterpretation of language -- and that true refugees are the victims.



Bishop Thomas Wenski, a consultant to the episcopal Committee on Migration and chairman of the Committee on International Policy, gave testimony last week before the Human Rights and Law Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He said that language contained in the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act have expanded the Immigration and Nationality Act in ways that have had unintended, negative impacts on bona fide refugees and asylum seekers.

During his testimony, Bishop Wenski said that the provisions, known as the "material support" bar, deny U.S. entry to an individual who provides material support to a terrorist organization.

And, he noted, this support can be broadly defined in immigration law, as aid given even under duress.

Bishop Wenski presented concrete cases of people victimized by the way the wording is interpreted by the Department of Homeland Security.

The testimony included a Somali woman who was raped and attacked by an insurgent group, who also killed her husband and daughter. She later decided to pay ransom to have her kidnapped son released.

Bishop Wenski said, "Congress must direct this administration, as well as future ones, with clear and unambiguous language regarding the material support bar. Such language should include a removal of the bar if an individual provides support to a terrorist group under duress."

The bishop urged a revision of the definitions on "terrorist activity" and "terrorist organization," saying that "Congress should revise these definitions to exclude groups that are no threat to the United States and do not meet the criteria for designation as foreign terrorist organizations."

"The issue of material support has seriously undermined the effectiveness of the U.S. refugee protection regime in offering safe haven to persons who flee terror and persecution in our world," the prelate added. "We need not shrink from our responsibilities to the world refugees in order to obtain security for the American public. Indeed refugees and asylum-seekers share a similar experience with our country as victims of terror."