Skip to main content

Congress: Fix Overbroad Bars on Admissions

Coalition Letter to Congressional Leadership

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.

Thank you,

Bruce Fein, Chairman
America Freedom Agenda

David Keene, Chairman
American Conservative Union

Gary Bauer, President
American Values

Sarnata Reynolds, Refugee Program Director
Amnesty International USA

Jess N. Hordes, Washington Director
Anti-Defamation League

Emily E. Arnold-Fernandez, Executive Director
Asylum Access

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
Hudson Institute

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
Liberty Coalition

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
World Relief

Adrienne Cooper, Executive Officer for External Affairs
The Workmen's Circle/ Arbeter Ring

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country