Conservatives Decry Terror Laws' Impact on Refugees

Vager Vang, a Hmong refugee, lives in California with his wife, Yeng Xiong. Though Vang fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, his green-card application has stalled. Under anti-terrorism laws, former fighters such as Vang could be considered terrorists.
Vager Vang, a Hmong refugee, lives in California with his wife, Yeng Xiong. Though Vang fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, his green-card application has stalled. Under anti-terrorism laws, former fighters such as Vang could be considered terrorists. (By Gary Kazanjian For The Washington Post)

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By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 8, 2007

Conservatives who supported President Bush's reelection have joined liberal groups in expressing outrage over his administration's broad use of anti-terrorism laws to reject asylum for thousands of people seeking refuge from religious, ethnic and political persecution.

The critics say the administration's interpretation of provisions mandating denial of asylum to individuals who give "material support" to terrorist groups is so broad that foreigners who fought alongside U.S. forces in wars such as Vietnam can be denied asylum on the grounds that they provided aid to terrorists.

Advocates for refugees add that people who were forced to aid terrorist fighters at gunpoint could be labeled as supporters and turned away; such cases include a nurse who was abducted and told to treat a guerrilla fighter in Colombia and a woman in Liberia who said her father was killed and she was raped and forced to stand by as rebels occupied her home for several days.

"This is so indefensible," said Michael Horowitz, a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute and a former lawyer in the Reagan administration. "It is causing heroes who fought for the United States to be afraid of being deported."

"It's outrageous," said Barrett Duke, vice president of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "I think it's essentially a reaction of fear to the current terrorist danger." The language in the laws, he added, is "a knee-jerk reaction."

Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values, a conservative public policy group, said the anti-terrorism thrust of laws such as the USA Patriot Act and the Real ID Act is supported by most conservatives, "but the enforcement of it has lapsed into ludicrousy. The concept of material support is being distorted, and even the definition of the term 'terrorism' is being turned on its ear."

The number of individuals granted asylum since 2001 has fallen steadily, from 39,641 then to 25,257 last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The number of refugee arrivals has fluctuated since 2001, from a high of 68,925 that year to 28,304 in 2003 to 53,738 last year. But it has not risen as high as the 72,000 who were allowed into the country the year before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Vager Vang, 63, is one of thousands of ethnic Hmong refugees in the United States who is hoping to gain legal residency with his green-card application. Vang fought in Laos alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War and helped rescue an American pilot who was shot down there.

But according to some interpretations of the Patriot Act, Vang is a former terrorist who fought against the communist Laotian government. Although his admission that he fought with Americans helped him gain refugee status in the United States in 1999, it may have hindered his green-card application after Sept. 11, 2001. The application has stalled at the Department of Homeland Security, and Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, the California group that helped him fill it out, is suspicious.

"It's not like DHS is telling people, saying, 'We're holding up your green-card application because you may have provided material support to terrorists,' " said Sophia DeWitt, a project director for the ministry. "They're just not communicating anything at all."

In central Florida, Lam Kim, 47, is fighting deportation. Kim fled Burma after soldiers ransacked her parents' house and found letters from the Chin National Front thanking her for a donation. The organization, which the Bush administration has labeled a terrorist group, is fighting against the Burmese military junta.

Kim, who uses a pseudonym, said she gave the money to help the group feed people in her ethnic group. She was jailed for two years after arriving in the United States in 2004, and her asylum request was rejected by an immigration judge. "If I go back to Burma," she said softly over the telephone, "I have to give my life. I am not terrorist. I say it not fair."


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