- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Today’s foreign terrorists could become tomorrow’s U.S. refugees under a Bush administration proposal to revise immigration rules.

The intent is to grant refugee status to rebels who have fought repressive governments or advanced U.S. foreign-policy objectives, particularly in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America.

But proposed changes to immigration rules also could cover U.S. enemies, such as members of al Qaeda and fighters for Hamas and Hezbollah.

To some lawmakers, the revisions under consideration by the administration are too broad and potentially dangerous.

Officials say the changes are meant to reverse the unintended consequences of post-September 11 restrictions that have kept thousands of otherwise eligible people from a haven in the United States.

The administration wants the authority to waive those restrictions so it has as much flexibility as possible in deciding who can and cannot enter the country.

Under current law, virtually all armed nongovernmental groups are classified as terrorist organizations, and the United States is prohibited from accepting their members and combatants as refugees.

There is limited ability to grant waivers to supporters of those groups who can prove they were forced to provide assistance, but more than 10,000 people have been barred. That includes many from Burma, Laos and Vietnam, including some who fought alongside U.S. forces in the Vietnam War.

Last year, the government planned to accept 56,000 refugees; the actual number was 12,000 less, primarily because of the restrictions.

In addition, about 5,000 people already in the United States as refugees have been blocked from seeking U.S. citizenship because of the rules. About 600 people asking for political asylum have had their cases put on hold.

“This has had a devastating impact on the admission of refugees and asylum seekers,” said Jennifer Daskal, U.S. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, which supports the proposed changes.

Amendments to the Immigration and Naturalization Act would permit the government to waive the rules for active members and fighters of terrorist groups on a case-by-case basis.

They would cover any foreigner who has engaged in terrorist activity, said Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman.

“This amendment thus provides the executive branch with the authority to admit aliens who have engaged in armed action against oppressive regimes or in furtherance of U.S. foreign policy or both,” he said.

Lawmakers, however, are skeptical of the need for such expansive changes.

“The provision in this bill would extend the waiver authority in current law to groups that are definitely not friends of the United States,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

Acting on behalf of a bipartisan group, Mr. Kyl in late March blocked the amendment from appearing in the Iraq war-spending bill that President Bush vetoed on Tuesday.

Mr. Kyl’s office is working on wording that would cut out what he called the bill’s “excesses.”

A new version, giving the executive branch more limited waiver authority, could be ready as early as this week, according to aides.

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