The Obama administration has adjusted its policies for allowing asylum-seekers into the United States. It will now grant asylum to those who have provided a low level of monetary support to terrorist groups, if it was incidental or unintentional.
Human rights advocates have long lobbied for a change to the law, arguing that the strict provisions for supporters of “terrorism” unfairly prevented people in serious threat from seeking protection in the U.S.
"The existing interpretation was so broad as to be unworkable," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. "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."
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Those “deserving refugees” include a Syrian citizen who paid an opposition group in order to flee Syria, and a farmer who paid tolls to a resistance group to cross a bridge to get to market, the LA Times reported.
“Several of the scenarios covered by these exemptions should not have been treated as ‘terrorist activity’ in the first place,” said Anwen Hughes, an asylum expert at the advocacy group Human Rights First, who added that the administration should “adopt a more sensible interpretation of the underlying statute,” which still bars thousands of refugees from entering the country.
But not all lawmakers were on board with the eased restrictions. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., called the change “deeply alarming” in a statement Thursday.
"We need to tighten security standards for asylum, not relax them even further,” Sessions said.
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According to the Washington Times, an unpublished DHS internal review found that at least 70 percent of asylum cases showed signs of fraud. Only 12 percent of those showed clear evidence of fraud, while the remaining 58 percent showed some signs but not enough evidence to make a definitive judgment.
In 2012, the U.S. granted asylum to 12,000 out of 44,000 people who sought it, according to Justice Department statistics.