August 22, 2007
Via Jim Henley, a wide-ranging interview with Nir Rosen on "Democracy Now". He covers the situation in Iraq, which is depressing but could hardly be surprising to anyone who's been following the news at all closely. There's some stuff about Nahr El Bared camp in Lebanon, the clash between Fatah al Islam and the Lebanese government – Rosen falls into the "Hariri's allies, if not Hariri himself, were supporting Fatah al Islam" school of analysis there.
But the thing that brought me up short was the discussion of Iraqi refugees' prospects for entry into the United States:
AMY GOODMAN: What are the politics of this, given that the US said they went into Iraq to save the people of Iraq, only allowing in 700 here?
NIR ROSEN: Well, there are various reasons for why they won’t take them in. I think the fact that they’re Arab and Muslim is probably one of them. The main factor is probably that if you take any refugees, you’re admitting that your whole program in Iraq is a failure. If Iraq is exporting refugees, people are fleeing Iraq for their lives, then everything we’ve done is a failure, which indeed it is, of course, failure.
And there are also security reasons. Homeland Security Department is finding it difficult to screen the Iraqis and difficult to even send their people to various embassies to initiate the screening process. That’s taken a painfully long time logistically.
AMY GOODMAN: Why can't they screen them?
NIR ROSEN: I think it’s just incompetence and sort of a lack of interest. And one of the factors that prevents Iraqis from getting visas, for example, if you’ve paid a ransom. Many Iraqis, virtually every family I know of, have been victims of kidnapping. If you pay a ransom to release your relative from kidnapping, according to the US government, you have materially supported terrorism, and therefore you can be prevented from obtaining a visa to the US.
I had thought I was pretty hardened to the cruelties of the Iraq war, but this one shocked me. Turns out the refugee support community has been on the case for a while:
Enacted by Congress as provisions of the REAL ID ACT of 2005 and the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, these provisions – known collectively as the “material support” bar – have brought the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program to a point of crisis, excluding large numbers of previously eligible refugees and asylum seekers from US protection, and wrongly categorizing as “terrorists” individuals who have been the primary recipients of terrorist brutality and coercion.
Finally to fully understand the problem posed for individual refugees by the material support bar, it is useful to consider some actual case examples that illustrate how the bar is currently being applied. All names have been changed to protect the identities of the victims.
- Miguel’s entire immediate family was killed resisting paramilitary attempts to take over the family’s farm while he was away at school. Armed paramilitaries later came to his house and forced Miguel and others to dig graves at gunpoint on a death march, often shooting the gravediggers so that they toppled into the trenches they had just dug. Miguel stated “I never knew when I would be digging my own grave." Miguel is deemed to be ineligible for US resettlement because by digging graves at gunpoint he has provided support to terrorists.
- Kalifa, a Somali woman was attacked in her home by members of the United Somali Congress (USC) militia. The men shot and killed both Kalifa's daughter and her husband during the invasion. They blindfolded and handcuffed Kalifa's son, looted the house of valuables, and took her son away in a car. Kalifa's son was held for three months until she paid $2,000 for his release. One week after her son was released, the attackers returned to her house, sexually assualted Kalifa and beat her son and demanded that they vacate their home. Kalifa and her son fled the country, but were denied resettlement in the United States because the theft of household valuables and the ransom paid to the militiamen was deemed material support of terrorism.
There's apparently a bill, HR 5918 (link has been unreachable every time I've tried to click through), introduced by Pennsylvania Republican Joe Pitts and currently in committee - here's a summary, complete with convenient "take action" button, from Church World Service. EDIT: Apparently the bill is dead for the moment, as having been submitted in the previous session of congress it does not carry over into the new one. I don't think that part was covered in "I'm Just a Bill", thus my ignorance.
Thanks to Eva Luna for the JRS link and other thoughts on the material support bar. Hopefully she'll be able to add some comments here.
Posted by tomscud at August 22, 2007 02:00 PM
Filed Under: Iraq War
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More thoughts later on the material support bar, once I m no longer perpetually on hold trying to straighten out the latest screwup by the Agency Formerly Known as INS (and for that matter, Matthew may have some thoughts as well – yes, this is a HINT, Mr. Let’s Perpetually Bug Our Sitemistress Re: Book Reviews!).
But for the moment, I just want to say that
a) to be fair, I doubt the material support bar is the primary barrier to the vast majority of Iraqi applications for asylum/refugee status; there are literally hundreds of thousands of immigration cases pending beyond the (already insane) “normal” processing times, sometimes years beyond, due to delayed routine security clearances. However,
b) one would hope that there would be some procedure in place to expedite security clearances for those applicants whose lives are genuinely in danger due to their inability to get U.S. visas. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t; in my experience, even Congressional inquiries are met with the USCIS response of “we can’t discuss how long this clearance may take, or even what the holdup is, because that’s a matter of national security.” Most of the time, it’s a case of mistaken identity, similar names, etc. My office has filed a number of Federal lawsuits to compel immigrant visa processing; sometimes they work, but they can take years, and genuine refugees don’t have that kind of time to waste (or, in most cases, the necessary resources to hire lawyers).
Too bad my boss is out for the next couple of weeks; I’m sure he’d have a pithy comment or two.
Posted by: Eva Luna at August 22, 2007 04:57 PM
"Kalifa and her son fled the country, but were denied resettlement in the United States because the theft of household valuables and the ransom paid to the militiamen was deemed material support of terrorism."
That, after this:
"One week after her son was released, the attackers returned to her house, sexually assualted Kalifa . . . "
I'm surprised they didn't also accuse her of consorting with and sleeping with the enemy.
Isn't this all sort of the immigration-exclusion moral equivalent of honor-killing?
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 22, 2007 06:03 PM
"Mr. Let’s Perpetually Bug Our Sitemistress Re: Book Reviews!). "
"Perpetually" is an exaggeration. "Repeatedly" is accurate. "Deservedly" is . . . debatable.
Nothing to add --- I actually have no strong views on this issue, despite my bias towards relatively open immigration.
I want the US military to emigrate en masse from Iraq to the US. I'll even grant them US passports in bulk to re-enter, or perhaps to travel to N Pakistan to be firmly resettled in some more rationally-targeted military work.
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 22, 2007 06:59 PM
As my database updates, here's a good collection of info on the material support bar, its effects, and efforts to create exemptions from it. (Click the links in the left-hand column.)
Posted by: Eva Luna at August 24, 2007 11:27 AM