Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Joe Pitts, who represents me in the House, is a Republican and so am I. But that's about as much as we have in common, politically. He's in the family values wing, and he spends far more time than I like obsessing about stem-cell research and flag-burning. He's like Santorum's Dutch uncle.

But when he's right he's right, and he's right about his proposal to amend U.S. immigration policy. Pitts recently introduced legislation to clarify the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act so they will admit honest and worthy asylum-seekers while denying citizenship to terrorists.

Language in the Patriot Act and related bills defines terrorism as “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place it was committed.” Current law also bars admission to the U.S. for anyone who ever provided “material support” to any armed group.

The terrorism definition is too broad. The Warsaw ghetto uprising of World War II doesn't belong in the same file as al-Qaida.

The laws also make no account of whether the opposition group is friend or foe to us.

Finally, the law takes no account of whether the support given was voluntary or coerced. A recent Kansas City Star article geve some examples of the kind of people this language bars from admission to America:

  • A Liberian woman who was kidnapped by rebels, raped repeatedly, and forced to cook and do laundry for them was considered by the Department of Homeland Security to have provided “material support.” The case was placed on hold.

  • The resettlement of a Sierra Leone mother and daughter who were raped and held captive in their home by marauding rebels also was placed on hold on the grounds the family had provided housing to the rebels.

  • A Colombian woman was barred from admission to the U.S. because she gave farm animals to rebels. The guerrillas demanded money, which the family did not have. After making countless threats, they took livestock instead. Later, they shot the woman’s husband and raped her.

Opponents of the military dictatorship in Burma might be denied entry. There already are people languishing in refugee camps who fled Uzbekistan after the repressive government there gunned down unarmed protesters in the capital, who can't get into America because that government has put their names on a "terrorist" list.

Pitts' proposed changes would limit the exclusion to members of groups known to be a threat to national security or U.S. citizens. They also would allow exceptions for services rendered at gunpoint.

This is not a case of one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter or any such loathsome moral equivalence. The U.S. has an amendable list of organizations it has deemed terroristic. Such laws as these ought to be bound by that list.

As things stand, we've barred our gates to thousands of the kind of people who made America. These also are the kind of people America was made for. Liberty's torch shines so they can find us out of the fog of the world.

It would be instructive to flip through an American history book and tally the number of important figures who would have been excluded from our nation by the law as it now stands. Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski is one who comes to mind. Another is the great 19th century German-American patriot and political figure Carl Schurz.

Schurz once gave a toast that rings true for this situation: "Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right."