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Asylum Seekers Caught Up in Anti-Terror Net

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By Sabri Ben-Achour

Some people seeking asylum in the D.C. region from persecution abroad are increasingly facing delays and denials in their applications. The Department of Homeland Security says it's trying to find solutions.

When Mohammed Ly was a teenager, his family fled his native Mauritania.

"Anyone black was labeled as un-Mauritanian. My parents were forced out."

Ly stayed. He was beaten and tortured, he applied for asylum in the U.S. -this was almost a decade ago. He moved to Maryland, where he started three small consulting firms, and got married. But he can't get a Green Card, can't bring his family over, and can't travel.

"I am considered a terrorist," he says.

Considered a terrorist, because when he was a teenager, he gave money to a friend, who it turned out was a member of a political group that fought repression of blacks in Mauritania.

The State Department does not view that group as a terrorist organization - it's not on any list. But immigration law is different.

"US immigration law has been defining terrorist activity as any use of armed force in any way that's unlawful," says Anwen Hughes with Human Rights First.

She says that definition is immensely broad.

"For example there are Iraqis caught up in this because they'd risen up against Saddam Hussein."

What's more, Hughes says the definition of "support" is extremely broad - it could mean something as innocuous as putting up flyers.

In the DC region, immigration workers say it's Ethiopians and Colombians who have born the brunt of these expansive definitions.

Brendan Prelogar is Special Advisor for Refugee and Asylum Affairs for the Department of Homeland Security.

"We are acutely aware of the problem."

But he says it's difficult to balance national security and humanitarian concerns.

"We are making progress in fashioning a better course, but it is taking a good deal of time," says Prelogar.

Meanwhile, thousands of asylum seekers have their lives on hold.

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