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ERLC opposes asylum changes in bill targeting terrorists

WASHINGTON (BP)–New legislative language intended to prevent terrorists from infiltrating the United States will not increase protection for Americans but will harm refugees fleeing to this country from life under oppressive regimes, the Southern Baptist Convention’s religious freedom entity says.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has joined a coalition of organizations opposing provisions in the REAL ID Act, H.R. 418, that would change federal law regarding asylum for refugees. The bill is intended to strengthen safeguards against terrorist entry into the United States and revises the asylum law for that purpose. Those changes in section 101 of the bill, however, are flawed, the ERLC and others contend.

The revisions are “well-meaning attempts” to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, but they “will not keep out an organized, well-financed terrorist,” ERLC Vice President Barrett Duke said at a recent Capitol Hill news conference, according to a text of his statement. “They will only deny protection to people who have nowhere else to turn, who believe that the United States is a haven of peace for the oppressed, downtrodden and persecuted people of the world.

“The changes being proposed are ill conceived in large measure because they make the wrong assumptions about the groups of people they are addressing,” said Duke, the ERLC’s VP for public policy and research. “The changes assume that the terrorists we are worried about are ignorant, ill prepared and disorganized -– all of which are deadly mischaracterizations -– and that the people we want to help are clear headed, well prepared and well acquainted with our asylum system –- all of which are too often not the case.”

The U.S. House of Representatives already has passed the measure and sent it to the Senate. The House voted 261-161 for the bill Feb. 10.

The ERLC does not oppose other portions of the bill, only the asylum section, Duke told Baptist Press. Other organizations opposing the asylum changes include World Relief, Jubilee Campaign USA, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Church World Service, American Jewish Committee, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Episcopal Migration Ministries.

A summary critique of section 101 provided to BP lists the following among the asylum provisions in the REAL ID Act that are most disconcerting to the organizations:

— It requires “insurmountable burdens of proof” for refugees to document they have been victims of persecution.

— It mandates refugees prove the “central” motive of those who persecuted them.

— It greatly expands the discretion of the person determining whether a refugee is credible.

— It eliminates judicial review of refugees’ cases.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently said the asylum process is the “least likely” means by which terrorists would seek to enter the United States, according to the critique. Passage of the asylum revisions would violate “international standards of human rights, U.S. treaty obligations, common sense and moral decency, and our country’s historic commitment to protecting the most vulnerable,” according to the critique.

The requirement that refugees provide evidence of persecution would not deter terrorists, Duke said at the April 12 news conference.

Terrorists “have vast networks and resources,” he said. “They can easily provide the documentary evidence to support their claim. The only people liable to be affected by this requirement are those who are too busy running for their lives to stop and collect the kind of evidence they need.”

A detailed analysis of section 101 of the legislation is available at