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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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A Colombian nurse living in California who declined to give her name said she was abducted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) outside Bogota and forced to treat one of their soldiers. She fled Colombia with her daughter in 2000 after her life was threatened in a note to her family. Her asylum request was rejected last year.

"I had no option," she said. "What will happen if I go back? I will be killed. They look for people. They know when they arrive at the airport. They have names."

Critics say that during the past two years, the Homeland Security Department has refused requests to broaden waivers that would have opened doors to people such as Hmong and Montagnard fighters who helped the United States in Vietnam and asylum-seekers such as Kim.

Horowitz, of the Hudson Institute, said he hopes Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), an opponent of "material support" provisions who has said the administration's definition of terrorists is a "catch-all," is serious about putting the issue on his agenda and holding hearings within the next two months. Leahy's spokeswoman said last week that the issue is high on his agenda.

"The key to ending these policies is in the hands of the new Democratic majority" in the House and Senate, Horowitz said. "I do not believe this is a sustainable policy."

Bauer, the American Values president, agreed, saying he plans to force the issue. "I've got a list of 150,000 conservative activists I e-mail," he said. "We're going to elevate it now as something we think time is long overdue for action."

If there are hearings in the Senate, Paul Rosenzweig, chairman of a Homeland Security advisory committee, could be called to testify. He said he is prepared to answer questions about why the department has not acted on complaints to grant waivers to people who, some say, clearly are not terrorists.

"I will completely own up to wishing we had done more, but it's a big department," he said. In the past year, the department broadened a waiver that allowed more ethnic Burmese refugees into the country, and it is in the process of broadening a waiver for Hmong and Montagnard guerrillas who fought for the United States.

The United States must be careful to not allow terrorists into the country, while fulfilling its promise to harbor the persecuted, Rosenzweig said. "It's a difficult problem," he said. "It isn't as easy as some might wish to balance the security risks that come with this and the humanitarian impulse."

Rosenzweig said that officials at the Homeland Security, Justice and State departments met with advocates about the waivers and that the meetings went well.

But few of the advocates agreed. "I wouldn't say the meetings went well," said Jennifer Daskal, a program director for Human Rights Watch. "The administration presented a proposal that would expand the waiver and basically said, 'Trust us.' It's been two years, and the administration hasn't done a whole lot to instill confidence."

Melanie Nezer, an attorney for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said, "They're proposing to broaden the waiver, but the waiver hasn't worked." While the administration grants waivers to ethnic Burmese in refugee camps outside the country, she said, it rejects the applications of persecuted Burmese already in the United States.

"It's an unbelievable problem because it's absurd," Nezer said.


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