Terrorists could become refugees
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 6, 2007
WASHINGTON - Today's foreign terrorists could become tomorrow's U.S. refugees if the Bush administration gets its way.
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 al-Qaida members 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-Sept. 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.
More than 10, 000 people have been barred. Last year, the government planned to accept 56, 000 refugees; the actual number was 12, 000 less, primarily due to 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.
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.
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, R-Ariz., who is leading an effort in the Senate to revise the amendment.
"I do not think that there is a single member of this body who believes that any member of al-Qaida, Hamas or Hezbollah should ever be considered for admission to this country, " he said.
Kyl in late March blocked the amendment from appearing in the Iraq war spending bill that President Bush vetoed on Tuesday.
A new version, giving the executive more limited waiver authority, could be ready as early as this week, according to aides.
Summary of the issue
Current law: Almost all armed nongovernmental groups are classified as terrorist organizations, and the United States is prohibited from accepting their members and combatants as refugees.
Proposed change: The Bush administration wants the ability to waive the rules for active members and fighters of terrorist groups on a case-by-case basis.
Potentially dangerous: The proposed changes to immigration rules could cover U.S. enemies such as al-Qaida members and fighters for Hamas and Hezbollah.