Two new exemptions to the Immigration and Nationality Act published in the Federal Register Wednesday by the Departments of Homeland Security and State mean that who provided “insignificant” or “limited” material support for terror groups will no longer be automatically denied eligibility from asylum or refugee status. The so called de minimus exception to the harsh consequences of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
The rules will likely affect about 3,000 people who have pending asylum cases and an unknown additional number of people currently in the process of being deported. It will certainly help Syrian refugees who would otherwise be blocked from receiving U.S. aid by existing rules.
The new exemptions apply to “limited material support,” which a DHS spokeswoman said is defined as “material support that was insignificant in amount or provided incidentally in the course of everyday social, commercial, family or humanitarian interactions, or under significant pressure.”
DHS provided a series of examples of individuals who would have been ineligible for asylum or refugee status before the new exemptions, including business owners who unwittingly provided service to members of a terror group, aid workers who assisted members of a terror group during the aftermath of a natural disaster or civil conflict and people who had to pay a toll or tax to a terror group to pass through opposition-occupied territory.
“For instance, an owner of a restaurant who serves food to any paying customer, even though he knows some of them are members of an opposition group; or a mother or father who — as any parent would — fed and clothed their young adult child, even when they knew their child is part of a resistance movement,” the DHS spokeswoman said.
Aside from the Federal Register publication, the only public notice announcing the changes came from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has for years been championing a change in the “material support” definition.
“The existing interpretation was so broad as to be unworkable. It resulted in deserving refugees and asylees being barred from the United States for actions so tangential and minimal that no rational person would consider them supporters of terrorist activities,” Leahy said. “These changes help return our nation to its historic role as a welcoming sanctuary to the world’s most vulnerable populations.”
The DHS spokeswoman did not say how many people would be impacted by the rule change, but Leahy said tens of thousands of refugees would be helped.