Posted on February 12, 2014 in Countdown

U.S. May Resettle More Than Just 90 Syrian Refugees

We don’t have to tell you that resolving the crisis in Syria hasn’t been easy. Russia has offered to meet directly with the United States to discuss Syria after the first Geneva II negotiations did not produce much substance, and it was also revealed that Syria is behind schedule in shipping out its chemical weapons arsenal. Still, there is a small piece of good news that could have a big impact for those suffering in Syria: in a welcome step, the Obama administration announced it will ease some restrictions to allow more Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States. The change includes two new exemptions to the Immigration and Nationality Act that will no longer bar individuals who provided “insignificant” or “limited” material support to an armed or opposition group from receiving immigration benefits. Prior to the announcement of the new exemptions, anyone that provided a bowl of rice, clothing, or any other type of aid to a Free Syria Army (FSA) soldier (even if forced to do so) would have been ineligible for asylum or refugee status. After assisting with a Senate hearing on this very issue last month, AAI wants to particularly thank Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy for bringing further attention to the plight of thousands of refugees who otherwise would be eligible for resettlement in the United States because of an unworkable policy. 

The State Department seems to think it can revoke your citizenship

Imagine, if you can, traveling to a country in the Middle East (let’s say Yemen) and then, upon your return home, being told by an official at the U.S. embassy in Sana’a that you must sign a form confessing that you are actually not a U.S. citizen and you must surrender your passport. Now you’re stuck in Sana’a unable to return home. Sounds like a horrible, awful nightmare, right? Well, for Rayman Hussein and an estimated 100 Yemeni Americans, this is actually a reality. (Seriously, we’re not making this up). Mr. Hussein, a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to the U.S. from Yemen at the age of 10, alleges that he was interrogated by a State Department official in Sana’a who threatened to confiscate his passport if he did not sign a statement admitting to having defrauded the U.S. government in order to obtain citizenship. After signing the document, Hussein’s passport was confiscated anyway. He now sits in limbo in Yemen without the right to due process afforded to him as a citizen of the United States. So what is the reason for this completely outrageous practice? The true answer to that question is unknown. Some community leaders, according to an Al Jazeera America report, believe that it might have to do with some Yemenis’ “having multiple names.” In that same report, an unnamed State Department official has some pretty disturbing things to say about the practice. Aljazeera reports: “it’s “drilled” into Foreign Service officers that name modifications in Arab cultures are “dishonorable,” creating a pervasive believe that “any name change by an Arab is suspect.” So much is unclear about what is happening here, but be assured, this is not going to go left unchecked until we get some answers.

Who’s Who in Freedom of Speech Violations

Legislators in Maryland are responding to the American Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott of Israeli colleges and universities, by introducing a senate bill aimed to restrict state funding to the association. Maryland is the second state targeting academic institutions participating in boycotts of Israeli institutions, as New York state legislators introduced two bills with similar language last week. The Maryland bill is still under review, while the two New York bills are being reworded to ease language on funding restrictions. Both states are receiving backlash from university groups and civil liberties advocates across the country, who view the proposed legislation- which would restrict state funding to public organization - as a denial of constitutional freedom of speech rights. State lawmakers are using the same defense to back their legislation, as they accuse the ASA and others of restricting freedom of speech rights for those wishing to study or receive funding in Israel. Not to be outdone, Congress has just joined in with their own bill, H.R.4009 entitled the “Protect Academic Freedom Act” and it seeks to "amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit an institution that participates in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars from being eligible for certain funds under that Act.” You will note that that was a direct quote because we could not possibly make this up.  More to come on all of this but we can’t help but to wonder who’s violating whose rights now? 

Case May Test NSA’s Overreaching Surveillance Programs

The National Security Agency (NSA) controversial surveillance programs may factor in the trial of Adel Daoud, a Chicago area man being charged in plotting to detonate a car bomb outside of a Chicago bar in 2012. Prosecutors are now appealing a federal judge’s decision to grant Daoud’s attorney access to confidential documents disclosing all warrants and surveillance conducted on Daoud by federal authorities. Proponents of the NSA’s surveillance programs, including California Senator Dianne Feinstein, argue that Daoud’s case demonstrates the effectiveness of these programs in nabbing would-be terrorists. Civil liberties advocates argue that the prosecution's evidence was collected through illegal means, and therefore cannot be used against Daoud in court. Daoud’s case is one of a number currently challenging the constitutionally of federal surveillance programs, and depending on the ruling of the prosecution’s appeal, has the potential of being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. This case brings up difficult questions of where to draw the line between national security and civil liberties and the legality of federal authorities using entrapment techniques in baiting potential suspects.

AIPAC Losing Republican Friends?

Though we’ve cautioned people not to get too excited about recent news reports raising the question of whether or not AIPAC is losing influence in Washington, we couldn’t help but note a piece in The Daily Beast about how AIPAC’s strategy to implement new sanctions on Iran alienated both Democrats and Republicans. It’s really no secret that AIPAC in recent years has become increasingly out of touch with the Democratic Party and its hawkishly pro-Israel approach to lobbying has resulted in increased alignment with the Republican Party. One of the reasons AIPAC is so effective is because it enjoys bipartisan support and, as the aforementioned Daily Beast article points out, members of both parties are usually happy to lend their names to AIPAC-baked legislation without question. But in this case, President Obama’s diplomatic engagement has effective rendered AIPAC impotent with respect to dictating the direction of policy on Iran. Obama’s policy of diplomacy has forced pro-Israel Democrats to break with AIPAC on sanctions. Most Republicans on the other hand were willing to oblige and support AIPAC’s position on new Iran sanctions. For AIPAC, however, anything short of bipartisan support for their initiative was unacceptable. With Democrats falling in behind the president, AIPAC had to retreat, and so they asked Republicans to pull back on the sanctions bill. To save face, they issued a statement saying that their initiative should receive bipartisan support before being brought up for a vote. That angered Republicans who saw the move as ultimately conceding defeat to the President. As you know, the bill went nowhere, and AIPAC failed in the pursuit of one of its biggest initiatives in years. What they didn’t fail at was the alienation of both Democrats and Republicans in the process. Sounds like a win-win to us. 

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