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Human Rights First report tells us that broad immigration laws label bona fide asylum seekers as “terrorists”

AsylumReportAccording to a Human Rights First report released last week, since 2001, over 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers who pose no threat to U.S. security have not received protection from the U.S. government due to the overly broad provisions of Immigration law, and the expansive way that they have been interpreted by federal immigration agencies. The report, entitled, ‘Denial and Delay: The Impact of the Immigration Law’s “Terrorism Bars” on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the United States’, outlines the pervasive, unintended consequences of the “terrorism” provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and provides some recommendations for swift and comprehensive solutions to the problem.

Out of the 18,000 cases, 7,500 are in limbo after having been put on hold or delayed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Most of these are people who are already in the U.S. and have filed for permanent residency. However, the delays are thwarting efforts of these people to bring over their family members, many of whom remain in stuck in very dangerous and difficult situations in their home countries.

While this situation can be traced back to provisions instituted in the 1990s, the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and the 2005 Real ID Act expanded the scope of laws dealing with “terrorist organizations”, “terrorist activity” and “material support” in ways that ensured that thousands of men, women and children who comprised of people who were abducted by rebel armies, who fought for democracy in their countries, and doctors who provided medical care to the wounded in accordance with their occupational obligation, were denied asylum even while they had fought for causes that the U.S. supports.

At the center of the report lie personal stories of those affected by these provisions. The most striking is that of a young girl who was kidnapped by a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, forced to take part in armed conflict, and threatened for her work against the use of children in armed conflict. Her application for asylum has been on hold for a year because of her previous involvement in armed conflict.

In another case, a refugee from Burundi was detained in U.S. county jails for 20 months because DHS and the immigration judge that heard his case decided that he had provided “material support” to a rebel group when the rebels had, in fact, forcibly robbed him of 4 dollars and food. Sachin Karmakar, a Bangladeshi man who advocated for religious minorities and was facing persecution for his work, was granted asylum but not permanent residency because he was involved in Bangladesh’s 1971 fight for independence from India.

Calling for reform, the report details that although DHS has been trying to deal with this situation by granting discretionary waivers, it has been piecemeal and is clearly not enough. They suggest that Congress amends the notion of “Tier III terrorist organizations” and the definition of “terrorist activity” to be more specific and appropriate.

The INA’s sloppy definition of a “Tier III terrorist organization” is causing groups that the U.S. does not treat as “terrorist” in any other context to be defined in this way…refugees who pose no threat to the U.S., and are not guilty of any conduct for which the U.S. would legitimately want to exclude them, are being denied the protection they need or are unable to obtain permanent residence or reunited with their spouses or children. Any non-citizens who do pose a threat to the U.S. or who are guilty of actual terrorist acts or other crimes are already covered by other provisions of the immigration law, so that the “Tier III” definition is being used overwhelmingly against people who were not its intended targets.

Moreover the Human Rights Watch report demands that DHS -

adopt a more effective and fair approach to granting “waivers”, one that allows people initially applying for asylum, refugee status or other relief to be considered for waivers based on an individualized assessment of their actions, that permits prompt adjudication of the large mass of applications for permanent residence and family reunification of people…and that ensures that no refugee is deported without being considered for a waiver if eligible for one under law.

Anwen Hughes, the author of the report, says that the speed at which Congress and the Obama administration is dealing with situation is disastrously slow. She said that change is critical in order to ensure that the immigration laws are no longer used to exclude legitimate refugees from the protection the U.S. is committed to offering them.

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