A victim of terrorism is denied asylum for being forced to provide support to terrorists

Sesay v. Att’y Gen., No. 14-2996 (3d Cir. May 26, 2015).

Some of the inhabitants of Makamie, Sierra Leone, where more than 60% of the inhabitants died in the recent Ebola epidemic (courtesy of the U.K. Dep’t of Int’l Dev.)

Some of the inhabitants of Makamie, Sierra Leone, where more than 60% of the inhabitants died in the recent Ebola epidemic (courtesy of the U.K. Dept of Intl Dev.)

Much deserved attention has been given to Texas v. United States, the politically freighted immigration decision the Fifth Circuit issued today. Here’s another immigration decision whose injustice, I hope, will be acknowledged by everybody, regardless of political affiliation.

Musa Sesay, the petitioner, is a Sierra Leonean national. In 2001, at the tail end of Sierra Leone’s civil war, three soldiers from a rebel group kidnapped him, demanding that he join the group. Over the next few weeks, he was confined and periodically asked whether he was ready to join. Each time he refused; each time he was beaten. After being released from confinement, he was forced to carry weapons, ammunition, and other supplies—all under the watchful eyes of an armed guard. A month later, he was able to flee the rebels. Eventually he made it to the United States, where he applied for asylum.

Asylum, however, is barred to aliens who have provided “material support” for terrorism. And the United States has designated as a terrorist organization the rebel group that kidnapped Sesay. Plus, “material support” for terrorism has been interpreted broadly—to include the kind of menial tasks that Sesay was forced to perform. So the material-support rule would seem to bar Sesays asylum application.

Sesay argues that this material-support bar has a duress exception: it does not apply to those who, like him, provide material support to a terrorist organization under duress. The Third Circuit, reading the text and context of the relevant statute, rejects this argument. 

In a footnote, the Third Circuit notes that the government has the power to waive the material-support bar, that Sesay applied for a waiver, and that his application was rejected.