January 25: Supporters of six Burmese ethnic opposition groups will be exempt from the U.S.’s material support provisions, as enshrined in anti-terrorism laws, when they apply for refugee status and resettlement in the U.S., announced the Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in a recent press release.

The six Burmese ethnic opposition groups included in the exemption list are the Karen National Union and their armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army; the Chin National Front and the armed group Chin National Army; the Chin National League for Democracy; Kayan New Land Party; Arakan Liberation Party; and the Karenni National Progressive Party.

Two other groups from Tibet and Cuba have also been included in this most recent exemption — the Tibetan Mustangs and Cuban Alzados. The material support provisions are contained with the USA Patriot Act, which was first passed after September 11, 2001, and bar any refugee or immigrant from resettling in the United States if they have provided ‘material’ support, such as shelter, food, supplies, or money, to any terrorist organization. Although the Burmese groups listed in this exemption have not been designated as terrorist organizations, broad wording of other clauses within the anti-terrorism legislation has resulted in any armed group opposing a ruling government being deemed a ‘terrorist’ group. Because of this individuals who have provided such material support to these groups have until now been excluded from settlement in the United States.

Michael Chertoff announced his decision, after consultations with the Departments of State and Justice, and exercised his discretionary authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to not apply the material support to terrorism provisions to refugees and asylum seekers who had supported the eight aforementioned groups. In addition to these specified exemptions, he declared his intent to exercise his discretionary authority to allow consideration of applications for refugee status, asylum, or adjustment of status by those who had provided ‘material support’ under duress. Chertoff also stated the federal government’s intention to seek legislation from Congress to further expand the Department of Homeland Security’s discretionary exemption authority.

The material support to terrorism exemption will not apply to individuals who represent a public safety or national security risk to the United States, the statement said.

Since the material support provisions came into effect, the refugee registration process was stalled in many countries, leaving refugees and asylum-seekers unsure of their future. This is the fourth material support waiver that has been applied to Burmese refugees. In 2006, two waivers were granted to Karen refugees in Thailand, while one was granted to Chin refugees in Malaysia, Thailand, and India. This current waiver broadens the number of people who may be offered exemption, as it not only includes new opposition groups, but it doesn’t limit the waiver to specific refugee groups according to their current location.

“We are deeply committed to ensuring that those who deserve humanitarian relief from our immigration system receive it, and that America continues to be a beacon of hope and protection for the persecuted,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in his closing remarks.