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USCIRF Welcomes U.S. Actions to Aid Refugees


February 14, 2014 | USCIRF

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today welcomed the recent announcement by the Departments of Homeland Security and State of two new waivers that would help ameliorate some of the unfair effects of overbroad bars on refugees, including those from Syria, fleeing religious or other persecution.

“The terrorism-related provisions are meant to exclude terrorists. That is the right goal and must be pursued unyieldingly. But we must avoid overbroad language that unintentionally and perversely excludes refugees fleeing terrorist groups and authoritarian regimes, which often includes individuals fleeing religious persecution,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George. “It is particularly unfair when overbroad provisions deny individuals refugee status because they aided opposition groups the United States has supported. The waivers help ensure that the United States is meeting its moral, humanitarian, and legal obligations to vulnerable individuals seeking refuge from persecution, while also vigilantly protecting U.S. security,” continued Chairman George.

On February 5, 2014, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department announced two waivers of U.S. immigration law’s terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds. The exemptions, issued pursuant to authority granted by Congress, apply to individuals who provided only “insignificant” or “limited” support to groups that are not on any U.S. government list of designated terrorist groups. According to the announcement, such support includes routine commercial or social transactions, certain humanitarian assistance, or support provided involuntarily under substantial pressure. To be eligible for an exemption, individuals must disclose the support and show that they had neither the intent to support nor knowledge that the support would further terrorist or violent activities.

Being granted a waiver is only one step in a long process. Individuals must meet all other eligibility requirements, including passing extensive security and background checks, and must not pose a threat to the security of the United States.

USCIRF also commends our fellow citizens and the United States government for providing desperately needed humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees, and we welcome the announcement that the United States will resettle 2,000 of the most vulnerable refugees in our country. Given the depth and gravity of the Syrian refugee crisis, however, USCIRF believes we can and should do more. “While third-country resettlement will not be a solution for the vast majority of Syrian refugees, we urge the U.S. government to increase its resettlement commitment. With more than 2 million Syrian refugees – many of them children -- and the number growing fast, this crisis places an entire generation at risk of hunger, disease, illiteracy, trafficking, and indoctrination into extremist ideologies inconsistent with democracy and universal human rights, including religious freedom,” said Chairman George.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at 202-786-0613 or media@uscirf.gov.