- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Homeland Security Department will begin issuing waivers to grant asylum or refugee status to individuals who aided FARC, a Colombian guerrilla group the U.S. has deemed a terrorist organization, if the individuals were forced to provide the help.

The Bush administration has been criticized for denying applications from many who say they were forced to help terrorist organizations under threat of death. Federal law says would-be immigrants who provide material support to terrorist organizations are not eligible for immigration.

But as laws have expanded the definition of terrorist organizations, lawmakers and human rights groups have sought to make sure not to exclude those who had no choice in providing aid.

In a policy announced last week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the arm of DHS that adjudicates immigration cases, now will have latitude to waive the bar if an applicant proves he was acting under duress.

“In cases where applicants for immigration benefits provided material support to the FARC, USCIS will evaluate whether the material support was provided under duress and whether the totality of the circumstances warrants a favorable exercise of discretion,” the agency said.

At a hearing two weeks ago, senators told the Bush administration that deserving refugees or asylum-seekers are being kept out. They cited the example of a woman from Sierra Leone who was raped by rebels that forced her to cook and do laundry for them, and who was denied asylum because she aided the rebels.

“These terms are defined very broadly, and the Department of Homeland Security has applied them in a manner that sweeps in conduct that no reasonable person would consider material support or terrorism,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, who chaired the Judiciary Committee subcommittee hearing. “As a result, the golden door has slammed shut for thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers.”

A Colombian women seeking asylum who DHS is trying to deport under the material support laws told the committee that she is a nurse who was pressured to provide medical aid to FARC guerillas.

“I knew that FARC would kill me and my family if I did not cooperate with them. The communications that they made showed me that they were watching my every move,” said the woman, identified as “Mariana” to protect her family in Colombia.

“I never acted voluntarily — I only provided medical support because I was threatened at gunpoint and told that if I did not help the FARC soldiers, both me and my family would be killed,” she said. “I sincerely felt that I had no other option.”

Paul Rosenzweig, deputy assistant secretary for policy at DHS, said stories like that are why UCSIS made FARC the first waiver they issued.

He said the administration is reviewing other terrorist organizations to see what other waivers should be issued.

But he said the president sent Congress changes earlier this year that would give DHS more flexibility, particularly on child-soldier cases and cases involving Hmong and Montagnard individuals who fought on behalf of the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

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