Via Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

By Marissa Yu, J.D. ’17, and Zoe Egelman, J.D. ’18

Earlier this week, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) co-authored a brief to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) on the “material support” bar to asylum, arguing that the word “material” must be given independent meaning in order to ensure that victims of terrorism are not unfairly denied humanitarian protection.

The material support bar in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prevents individuals who have afforded “material support” to terrorist activity or foreign terrorist organizations from obtaining asylum.

Over the past several years, federal courts of appeals have asked the BIA to clarify how much support triggers the bar. Is “material support” a term of art that includes any amount of support, even de minimis contributions to foreign terrorist organizations? Or does “material” have independent meaning such that de minimis contributions will not trigger the bar? To resolve this issue, the BIA issued a call for amicus.

HIRC took the call to advocate for asylum seekers unjustly affected by the failure to give meaning to the “materiality” requirement of the bar. These include innocent civilians who give minimal amounts of good or services to rebel or terrorist groups that they dislike or fear but with which they are obligated to interact on a regular basis because the conditions in their home countries offer them no realistic alternative. They also include refugees who have limited dealings with groups they see as their protectors against more abusive, typically governmental, forces, and to which they make contributions that can hardly be considered criminal acts.

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