Obama Administration Lessens Asylum Restrictions on Aid to Terrorist Groups

Recently, the Federal Register published two new exemptions to the Immigration and Nationality Act on Wednesday by the Departments of Homeland Security and State mean that who provided “insignificant” or “limited” material support for terror groups will no longer be automatically denied eligibility from asylum or refugee status.

An unknown number of people currently in the process of being deported, as well as about 3,000 people with pending asylum cases will be affected by this rules change. It will likely help Syrian refugees who would otherwise be blocked from receiving U.S. aid by the existing rules.
The new exemptions apply to “limited material support.” A DHS spokeswoman reported that the term is defined as “material support that was insignificant in amount or provided incidentally in the course of everyday social, commercial, family or humanitarian interactions, or under significant pressure.”

The only public notice announcing the changes came from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has for years been championing a change in the “material support” definition. “The existing interpretation was so broad as to be unworkable. It resulted in deserving refugees and asylees being barred from the United States for actions so tangential and minimal that no rational person would consider them supporters of terrorist activities,” Leahy said. “These changes help return our nation to its historic role as a welcoming sanctuary to the world’s most vulnerable populations.”

Anwen Hughes, an attorney with Human Rights First, said the changes will help displaced people who have no alternative than to deal with members of banned groups during the course of their daily lives. She said the new rules could allow thousands of displaced Syrians apply for asylum or refugee status who otherwise would have been forbidden to apply for asylum or refugee status.

The changes made to this policy is a step forward in addressing an issue that has gone back and forth between the immigration courts and the board of immigration appeals. With these changes, more cases should be resolved to allow those who do qualify for asylum and refugee status to remain here and to not be removed for what once constituted “material support.”