Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) said that this lack of direction comes at a time when the country has "barely recovered from the substantial decline in the number of refugees being admitted to the U.S. following the 9/11 tragedy."
With the passage of the Patriot Act immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the enactment of the REAL ID Act, another law deemed to be an anti-terrorist measure enacted last year, persons who have given "material support" to "terrorist groups" are now considered inadmissible to the U.S.
"It is the lack of clarity around these terms that has the potential to bring the U.S. admissions program to a virtual halt," according to EMM director Richard Parkins.
Parkins said that "this is an unnecessary but very tragic situation, particularly since we and our State Department partners have worked so hard to revive the program since 9/11."
The term "material support" can pertain to any form of assistance which one might have given to a so-called terrorist group, Parkins said. People may give that sort of support under duress, as has been the case of Colombians caught in the crossfire between competing insurgent groups where failure to cooperate with the group asserting its control of certain territory could result in death. Also, being a member of an organized group actively resisting oppression and being denied basic human rights, as is the case with dissident Burmese, can also be defined as "material support," Parkins said.
In any event, "the policy as it stands makes no sense," he said.
Without the new laws, both of these scenarios would instead be the very conditions which confer refugee status and create the justification for resettlement in the U.S.
"Likewise, the term terrorist is ambiguous if any organized resistance to oppression is defined as unacceptable terrorist activity," Parkins said.
He also noted that "it is doubtful that the law was intended to bar those whose refugee credentials are compelling, yet this will be the result unless the government remedies this policy by recognizing the right of legitimate refugees to receive the protection which U.S. resettlement affords."
The Refugee Council USA, chaired by Parkins, has repeatedly made overtures to Congress and the pertinent government departments seeking to fix the problem. The responsibility for producing a remedy rests with the Department of Homeland Security.
EMM reports that thousands of refugees are in limbo, awaiting a resolution of the "material support" issue.
"The indecision of the U.S. government on this matter has stopped the referral of Colombians and certain groups of Burmese to the U.S. program. There is increasing concern that other groups destined for U.S. resettlement could have their admission deferred since refugees understandably, in many parts of the world, associate with organized protest groups against oppressive, undemocratic regimes," Parkins said in a news release.
"This crisis is unnecessary in the sense that ambiguous legislation in the hands of persons indifferent to the plight of refugees or at least not fully understanding their plight has left us with a terrible if unintended humanitarian crisis," Parkins said. "Human suffering and the generosity of our nation should not be held hostage to the misapplication of faulty legislation."
He said the "cost of indifference to this crisis is prolonged suffering for many."
EMM offers assistance in resettling refugees throughout the U.S. in dioceses which seek to be a part of its resettlement program. For more information about EMM, go to http://www.episcopalchurch.org/emm/.