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DOS Explains Waiver of Material Support Bar for Certain Ethnic Karen Refugees

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 06050872 (posted May. 8, 2006)"

Excerpt from:
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 5, 2006

QUESTION: What about a waiver that the Secretary probably has signed making thousands of Burmese eligible to emigrate here?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. There's a fact sheet that we have either put out or are going to put out.

QUESTION: Not out yet (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to be putting it out. Let me walk you through this because it's a pretty complicated issue. The context for this: There is a refugee camp along the Thai-Burmese border call the Tham Hin refugee camp. In this refugee camp there are a number of ethnic minorities from Burma. Among these ethnic minorities there's a group of about 9,300 people from the Karen, K-a-r-e-n, ethnic -- Burmese ethnic minority..

So recently, over the past -- I'm not sure exactly when it started, but over a past period of time representatives of the Department of Homeland Security have been going through this refugee camp and interviewing individuals to see whether not they meet the criteria for possible resettlement in the United States as refugees.

Now, in the course of these interviews, the representatives discovered that there were members of the Karen National Union, combatants of the Karen National Union and those who might have provided some "material support" under the law to the Karen National Union.

Now, under the law, the intersection of the Patriot Act and the Clear ID Act of 2005, those who have -- might have provided material support to what, under that act, might be considered a terrorist organization, would not be eligible for possible resettlement in the United States. Now, I distinguish between a foreign terrorist organization and what might be considered a terrorist organization under the Clear ID Act. There are several different tiers of this. It's referred to as a tier three organization..

So that's the overall context for where we stand right now. Now, what the Secretary did was she exercised the waiver authority -- and this is under the Immigration and Nationality Act -- so that certain refugees who might otherwise meet all the criteria for refugee resettlement in the United States could be considered for resettlement in the United States. So this waiver is not a guarantee that individuals might be resettled in the United States, but merely something that allows the Department of Homeland Security to consider them as potentially eligible, even though they might be considered under the law to have provided what I referred to as material support. That's the term under the law.

So that's where we stand now in the process. So to my knowledge, there haven't been any individuals who have actually been designated for resettlement here. And there's one important -- one more important point here, and that is anybody who might be a combatant or a member of the Karen National Union would not be eligible for resettlement in the United States, even under this waiver authority.

QUESTION: Let me see if I understand. I think I do.


QUESTION: There was a blanket exclusion of all these refugees, whether or not there was evidence that they supported terrorism until now..

MR. MCCORMACK: Not all the refugees in the camp. It's an important distinction because you have a group of -- an ethnic minority -- about -- a little more than 9,000 people. So some subset of them might be considered as potentially providing material support to the Karen National Union. So I'm not saying all of them. I'm just saying some group of them.

QUESTION: So it is a waiver.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. This waiver would potentially affect a subset of that 9,300 people. And so that's -- I just want to draw that distinction between all of the refugees from this ethnic minority and those who -- some subset of them who might otherwise have been automatically excluded because of the Patriot Act or the Clear Idea Act.

QUESTION: Were there people who, all along, have been eligible to resettle here in that group? It sounds like (inaudible) go through the area and made a more discerning distinction between potential terror supporters and just people.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, you'll have to talk to Homeland Security for exactly where they are in the process, whether or not they were actually individuals who had already met the eligibility --

QUESTION: That's what --

MR. MCCORMACK: Homeland Security would have a better read on that, Barry, for exactly where they stand in the process. So what the waiver does is it opens up a possibility for some subset of those group of people, but it would not include people who are either members or combatants in the Karen National Union.

QUESTION: Is there some nuance about whether -- last question -- whether that group, you said may be considered -- is it fair enough to say it's designated as a terrorist group?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's -- under -- there are various different classifications, as you know Barry, foreign terrorist organizations being something completely separate. But under this law, the Clear ID Act of 2005, is a very expansive definition of what might constitute a terrorist group and that group, the Karen National Union, would fall under that designation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this?

QUESTION: When was the waiver issued?

MR. MCCORMACK: She signed the waiver on Wednesday.


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