The Terrorists Next Door

National security laws have transformed America's most vulnerable immigrants into terrorists

Changes to the statute are unlikely and policy-level changes are slow going due to the politically fraught nature of the word "terrorism."

"When you say, 'terrorism,' it's like cancer," Ragland says. "It's the scarlet letter T, it's the number one thing that all politicians and administration people and everybody is afraid of: being accused of letting in a terrorist."

Regassa Oljirra first petitioned the United States for a green card 11 years ago. Oljirra, a 43-year-old asylee from Ethiopia who works in the state of Minnesota's Department of Human Services, was granted asylum in November 1999.

Sources: Executive Office for Immigration Review) and Ashley Huebner, National Immigrant Justice Center.
Anwen Hughes and Melanie Nezer are leading critics of the current terrorism bar
courtesy of Thomas Haederle
Anwen Hughes and Melanie Nezer are leading critics of the current terrorism bar

Since applying for his green card in April 2001, Oljirra has sent countless messages requesting updates to the federal government.

"I've been getting a two-sentence generic message for the last 11 years," Oljirra says.

In addition to working for the state of Minnesota, Oljirra is taking public policy courses at the University of St. Thomas. His wife is a U.S. citizen who cannot file an immigration petition on his behalf due to the terrorism bar. Oljirra's application was flagged due to his youthful support of the Oromo Liberation Front. It's a problem his friends and family find all too familiar.

"This is not a secret," Oljirra says. "This is happening to thousands of Oromos in town, refugees and asylees; there are so many people affected by this."

The immigrants themselves are baffled by the situation. Oljirra sees no rational reason for his own green card application to take 11 years to process and calls the whole situation a "paradox."

"Government is saying they don't issue you a green card because of this terrorism-related issue, but they still keep you in the country, they let you work," Oljirra says. "I can go anywhere, at any time, within the borders of the United States. If they think that I pose a danger, they should not have done that." 

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