THE HIGHEST U.S. immigration administration authority ruled this week that cooking and cleaning for terrorists, even when done under threat of death, qualifies as providing material support and justification for deporting someone. The immigration court’s catch-all interpretation of material support aligns with how it has been used in federal criminal cases, where the law has allowed prosecutors to charge people for vague, often nonviolent offenses related to terrorism.
The case at issue before the immigration court involved an unnamed Salvadoran woman who was kidnapped by guerrillas in 1990 and forced to undergo weapons training and cook and clean. The woman also watched her husband, a sergeant in the Salvadoran army, dig his own grave before being executed by the guerrillas.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had argued for the woman’s removal from the United States in 2004, based on the duties she was forced to perform while held captive 14 years earlier. Under the material support provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the sweeping security legislation passed in the months after the 9/11 attacks, immigrants may be denied entry or removed from the country if they provided support to terrorists, which are broadly defined in immigration law as nonstate actors involved in armed force.
The woman’s lawyer had argued that cooking and cleaning were not significant enough to be considered material support. And even if these activities were to be considered material support, she should be entitled to a so-called duress exception, since her life was threatened, the lawyer said. An immigration judge agreed to cancel her removal order, finding that the work she provided was so minimal it did not amount to material support.
The majority of board members found that the woman’s cooking and cleaning for the group still qualified as material support for terrorism.
But DHS appealed the ruling, and this week, in a 2-1 ruling, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the government’s reasoning. The majority of board members found that the woman’s cooking and cleaning for the group still qualified as material support, stating that nothing in the law allows for a “quantitative requirement” that would make one activity, such as raising money, more significant than another activity, such as washing dishes. They also ruled, citing a previous case from 2016, that there is no duress exemption to the material support statute.
Board member Linda S. Wendtland, in a dissenting opinion, argued that the board was giving material support a more expansive definition than Congress intended.
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