20,000 fewer refugees have entered the United States this year than last. Starting in early 2011, thousands of refugees who had been granted resettlement through USRAP were told that their tickets had been cancelled.
The Department of Homeland Security assured concerned advocates that this was only a temporary interruption. A new pre-travel security check had been put in place upon discovery of the lapse that allowed Waad Alwan and Mohanad Hammadi (now behind bars and awaiting trial) to enter the U.S. as refugees even though their fingerprints had been lifted from roadside bombs in Iraq and were available in a Department of Defense database. Implementation of this new procedure was responsible for the delay, but travel would soon resume. As Mark Hetfield writes in the Huffington Post, “Refugee advocates initially accepted this, as none of us want terrorists to use the Refugee Program as a Trojan horse to enter the U.S.”
But Hetfield’s description of what is actually taking place indicates a far worse impasse than a simple delay: “Hundreds of refugees, however, were not able to pass the additional security check at all. Recently, DHS started informing approved refugees that the Department was invoking its discretion to revoke their refugee status.”
Hetfield witnessed six of these revocations personally and noted, “What I saw causes me to question the reliability of these ‘security checks.’ Five were Christians who fled religious persecution and sought to reunite with family in the U.S.: a young unmarried female hairdresser, an unmarried middle aged female receptionist, and a severely disabled man traveling with his parents, one in a wheelchair and the other their full-time caretaker. All of these were expecting to reunite with family members in California.”
Perhaps most chilling is DHS’s authority to revoke refugee status without telling a refugee why and on the basis of secret evidence. In Knauff v. Shaughnessy, likely the most frightening Supreme Court Case still considered good law, the Court held that “Any procedure authorized by Congress for the exclusion of aliens is due process, so far as an alien denied entry is concerned.” No matter if that “procedure” were merely the utterance of the words “national security” by the appropriate member of the Executive branch. No matter if the alien in question were, as Ellen Knauff indeed was, a German woman who had lost her family to the Holocaust, served the British and American armed forces with distinction during World War II, and married a United States citizen soldier.
So the Court in Knauff gave us to know that the Executive can revoke refugee status without regard for due process of law. But the Knauff case itself sparked a public outcry resulting in the grant of a discretionary hearing at which the Board of Immigration Appeals determined “there was not adequate evidence to justify the [Attorney General’s] order of exclusion.”
The public demanded due process of law for Ellen Knauff where the courts would not. Many refugees whose grant of resettlement in the United States has been revoked in recent days merit our empathy and respect as much as Ellen Knauff did—they too have escaped persecution, lost family members, and served United States and coalition armed forces with distinction. Whether the American public will demand that they receive due process of law remains to be seen.