Human Rights Watch joined with a broad, bipartisan coalition to urge Congress to fix overbroad bars on admission that are defining Hmong and Montagnards who fought alongside the US during the Vietnam war, as well innocent victims of armed rebel groups, as "terrorists" and denying their admission to the United States. The letter expresses strong disappointment that language that would have largely fixed this problem was stripped out of the Senate version of the Iraq supplemental at the last moment.
Dear Leaders of the House and Senate:
As you are aware, current law is defining innocent victims of terrorism, as well as members of groups that have provided support to the United States as terrorists, and barring their admission to the United States.
Shockingly, Hmong and Montagnards are being defined as terrorists and barred entry into the United States because they fought alongside the US during the Vietnam War; rape victims forced into domestic servitude are being labeled supporters of terrorism because of the cooking and cleaning they did while enslaved; child soldiers forcibly conscripted into armed rebel groups are treated as if they had were willing lieutenants of their brutal captors; and medical professionals who fulfill their ethical obligations by treating wounded rebels are defined as “material supporters” of terrorists. Even Iraqi refugees who have risked their lives to provide assistance to U.S. forces are also at risk of being barred from the U.S. because of these laws and the manner in which they have been construed.
Moreover, thousands of refugees and asylees already admitted to the United States are now being prevented from taking steps toward naturalization or bringing in eligible spouses and children under family reunification laws due to the retroactive application of these bars.
An unusually large coalition of religious, human rights, refugee, and other groups from across the political spectrum have been working for more than two years to come up with a solution to this problem that members of Congress from both parties could support. That solution, which is less extensive than many of us would prefer, was included in the Senate Iraq supplemental appropriations bill.
The key provisions are: (i) expanded waiver authority that the administration wants and needs to be able to prevent the unintended consequences of the law; (ii) a duress exception to the material support bar, which is needed to protect those forced against their will to provide food, water, or services to terrorist groups from being defined as terrorists; and (iii) a provision protecting Hmong and Montagnards who fought alongside the U.S. during the Vietnam war, Burmese ethnic groups that have organized to resist one of the world’s most repressive regimes, Cubans who opposed Castro, and Tibetan freedom fighters from being defined as terrorists under US law.
But that compromise solution was blocked when Senator Jon Kyl – who has put forward his own legislative proposal on the issue - raised a point of order and had the language stripped from the bill. But whereas the administration is seeking greater discretion to avoid the unintended consequences of these bars, Senator Kyl’s proposal limits this discretion. Senator Kyl’s proposal also fails to include an affirmative duress exception to the material support bar. Needless to say, we think this is a move in the wrong direction and will exacerbate the current problems.
As a result, Hmong and Montagnards who fought alongside the United States, members of Burmese ethnic groups who have organized to defend the local population against one of the world’s most repressive regimes, and victims of the world’s worst terrorist groups continue to be defined as terrorists and barred from entering the United States. This current state of affairs embarrasses the United States and makes no sense from a humanitarian, foreign policy, or national security perspective.
We urge you to help enact legislation that will effectively solve this problem, and to do so on an urgent basis. This can be done by scheduling floor time for the compromise solution included in the Senate Iraq appropriations bill or, alternatively, the bipartisan solution introduced by Congressman Joe Pitts and others last Congress. Both are reasoned approaches that command broad support.
We hope to meet with you at your convenience to discuss this pressing and urgent matter.
Bruce Fein, Chairman
America Freedom Agenda
David Keene, Chairman
American Conservative Union
Gary Bauer, President
Sarnata Reynolds, Refugee Program Director
Amnesty International USA
Jess N. Hordes, Washington Director
Emily E. Arnold-Fernandez, Executive Director
Catherine Arrowood, Washington Representative
The Center for Victims of Torture
Jim Jacobson, President
Christian Freedom International
Rev. Joe Roberson, Director, Immigration and Refugee Program
Church World Service
Doug Bandow, Vice President for Policy
Citizen Outreach Project
C. Richard Parkins, Director
Episcopal Migration Ministries
Deborah Anker, Director
Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program
Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
Sky Salvail-Hotrich, Interim Chief Executive Officer
Hmong National Development, Inc.
Michael Horowitz, Fellow
Jennifer Daskal, Advocacy Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch
The Rev. Dr. James Tonkowich, President
Institute on Religion & Democracy
Joseph K. Grieboski, Founder and President
Institute on Religion and Public Policy
Jeff King, President
International Christian Concern
Elissa Mittman, Immigration Director
International Rescue Committee
Olivia Bueno, Research and Communications Coordinator
International Refugee Rights Initiative
Very Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J., President
Jesuit Conference of the United States
Rev. Kenneth Gavin, S.J., National Director
Jesuit Refugee Service, USA
Hadar Susskind, Washington Director
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Avram B. Lyon, Executive Director
Jewish Labor Committee
Jeffrey I. Pasek, Esq., President
Jewish Social Policy Action Network
Ann Buwalda, Director
Jubilee Campaign USA
Kathryn Cameron Porter, President
Leadership Council for Human Rights
Michael Ostrolenk, National Director
Ralston H. Deffenbaugh, Jr., President
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs
National Association of Evangelicals
Michele Waslin, Director of Immigration Policy Research
National Council of La Raza
Leonard Rubenstein, Executive Director
Physicians for Human Rights
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director
The Shalom Center
Doua Thor, Executive Director
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Layli Miller-Muro, Esq., Executive Director
Tahirih Justice Center
Dane vonBreichenruchardt, President
US Bill of Rights Foundation
Geoff Tunnicliffe, International Director/CEO
World Evangelical Alliance
Stephan Bauman, Senior Vice President for Programs
Adrienne Cooper, Executive Officer for External Affairs
The Workmen's Circle/ Arbeter Ring