But early this month, Mr. Ziadeh was informed that he would be denied political asylum in the United States. In a 12-page letter laying out the government’s “intent to deny” his asylum claim, Citizenship and Immigration Services explained that he had provided “material support” to Syrian groups that the government considered undesignated terrorist organizations.
Mr. Ziadeh said he was shocked. He and his wife have lived in the United States for 10 years on a series of temporary permits, the latest of which expires next spring. Their children were born here.
“Right now, I can’t even plan for the future,” he said. “What will happen? I have three American kids. I love, actually, the U.S. I visited all 50 states, even U.S. territories. I visited all the presidential libraries.”
Going back to Syria is not an option. The government there has a warrant out for his arrest; the Islamic State has him on a list of Syrians it wants dead.
At issue, specifically, is that Mr. Ziadeh organized a series of conferences from November 2012 to May 2013 to discuss a democratic transition in Syria.
Among those invited to the workshops, held in Istanbul, were self-described commanders in a loose confederation of rebel groups called the Free Syrian Army, as well as political leaders affiliated with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
Both groups are well known to the American government. For years, the Central Intelligence Agency and its counterparts in Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other countries have provided some Free Syrian Army factions with salaries, arms and other supplies. The State Department has also provided aid.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s members also had central roles in the Syrian National Council, the political umbrella group that the United States supported.
Robert S. Ford, a former American ambassador to Syria, said in an email that the American government did not consider either of the groups that Mr. Ziadeh invited to the workshops to be a terrorist organization.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Ford added, has no “administrative connection” to Muslim Brotherhood factions in other countries. (President Trump’s advisers have debated but not decided whether to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.)
Moreover, Mr. Ford said, both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, as secretaries of state, met with opposition delegations that included Brotherhood members.
“The U.S. administration, myself included, regularly spoke with members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood who were themselves members of Syrian opposition coalitions and delegations,” he wrote.
In its letter to Mr. Ziadeh, Citizenship and Immigration Services said he had provided “material support” to members of the groups when his organization, the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, paid for their airfare and hotel bills in Istanbul, using money from the Canadian government.
“As both the FSA and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood used weapons with the intent to endanger the safety of Syrian government officials, both groups have engaged in terrorist activity such that they met the definition of an undesignated terrorist organization (Tier III) at the time you provided material support,” the letter states.
“You have therefore ‘engaged in terrorist activity,’” it went on to say.
Mr. Ziadeh is appealing the government’s decision.
His lawyer, Steven H. Schulman, said that inviting members of opposition groups to a conference to discuss the political future of Syria should not be seen as promoting the groups’ agendas or providing them with material support.
“I find it offensive, because no reasonable person would sit down and say Radwan Ziadeh is a terrorist,” Mr. Schulman said. “There are real terrorists out there. We all know that. Somehow, we are unable to distinguish between people who actually engage in terrorist activity and who do not engage in terrorist activity.”
The label “undesignated terrorist organization” has been in place since the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Many organizations that have engaged in violence, whether or not the United States supported them, have fallen under that term, said Anwen Hughes, a lawyer who specializes in asylum cases at Human Rights First, an advocacy group.
Providing “material support” to those groups can mean anything from fighting alongside them to paying them ransom. In 2008, an Iraqi man who worked as an interpreter for American forces in Iraq was denied a green card because he had belonged to a Kurdish group seeking to oust Saddam Hussein.
Ms. Hughes said one of her former clients had been denied asylum because he paid a ransom to an armed group in order to release a kidnapped family member. “It’s a fairly widespread problem that’s not limited to Syrians,” she said.”
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Unfortunately, U.S. Immigration Judges’ hands are tied on this provision. Not only must they apply it, but they have been denied authority to issue the limited waivers available. Instead, that authority has been given to lower level adjudicators at the USCIS with no right to appeal a denial. In fact, there isn’t even a process to actually apply for the waiver. Only ICE can “refer” a case from Immigration Court to USCIS for consideration of the waiver.
Article III Courts have had various opportunities to shut down this “arbitrary, capricious, and absurdly overbroad” abuse of Legislative and Executive authority. But, perhaps because they lack the backbone to stand up for individuals caught up in the aura of a “national security” problem, they have looked the other way.
To make things worse, the Trump Administration appears to be moving in the direction of revoking all or some of the currently existing waiver authority. No wonder our foreign policies in Syria and many other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere are so ineffective and in such disarray. Who would offer to help to a feckless country that treats its friends and allies like enemies?