By: Julie Hysenaj
The Obama administration is considering exemptions for people who have been mislabeled "terrorists" under U.S. immigration laws. This is Julie's story.
Arben is from Kosovo. When I married him, he was applying for asylum in the United States. When he was told he had to leave the country, we had just bought a house. Because I'm a U.S. citizen, our attorney recommended that Arben leave the U.S. and apply for an immigrant visa, so he did.
That was nearly four and a half years ago.
At his final interview at the U.S. embassy in Macedonia, in November 2010, Arben was told his visa had been denied. The embassy wouldn't explain why. The denial notice referred to "section 212(a)(3)(B)." Neither of us knew what that was. It wasn't until I spoke to a lawyer in New York who had represented many Albanians that I understood the problem.
The State Department was saying Arben was a terrorist because for two months in the summer of 1998, he had been in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), or the UCK as they call it there. I was shocked the U.S was treating my husband as a terrorist. The United States supported Kosovo's independence. I contacted the Kosovo embassy in Washington, and a rep told me that this was not possible, that the KLA was not listed as a terrorist organization. It's not. But that doesn't matter because the definition of an "undesignated" terrorist organization in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is so broad it captures hundreds of organizations, including the KLA, that the U.S. doesn't consider "terrorist" in any other context.
Arben had joined the KLA as a matter of survival. Serbian forces were attacking Kosovar Albanian villages. After two months, Arben and other young men fled to Albania, where they stayed for the rest of the war. Arben had nothing to do with the KLA after that. We got a letter from the KLA War Veterans Organization confirming this. Arben's military and police record is clean. We provided proof of this to the U.S. embassy.
Arben explained all the facts of his situation, including his past membership in the KLA, in his immigration applications. He told the truth to the immigration authorities, and I feel he's being penalized because of his honesty.
Arben is not a threat to anyone. He's a hard-working, honest, caring, funny, dependable, law-abiding person, and I miss him terribly. I have been working three jobs to make mortgage payments and have been trying to save a little extra so that I can visit him once a year. But the economic situation has been so difficult I haven't been able to see him for two and a half years. I'm determined to keep our home, but it's hard to be in the house sometimes because I see him everywhere.
I don't know what else to do. I have followed up on Arben's case so often that the security guards at the immigration office in Dallas know my name, and so do the consular staff at the U.S. embassy in Macedonia. I have written to the heads of all the government agencies involved in his case, as well as both my Senators.
When Arben's visa was denied, a staffer at one office told me that my only options were to divorce Arben or move to Kosovo. I don't think I should have to do either of those things. I married Arben for better or for worse. I take that vow seriously, and I want to make my life with him.
I am a U.S. citizen. My family and I were resettled here as refugees from Czechoslovakia when I was a little girl and I grew up in Texas. My parents and brother are here. I don't speak Albanian. The situation in Arben's village in Kosovo is still not good: his house still has bullet holes in the ceiling, and there's still violence. He has a job and a family waiting for him here.
The Department of Homeland Security is considering an exemption that would allow people like Arben to be considered for visas. I'm praying it happens -- and fast -- so that my husband can come home.
On January 23rd, Ms. Hysenaj shared her story at an event hosted by Human Rights First, World Relief, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld LLP. Also on the panel was Barrett Duke, Vice President for Public Policy and Research, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Click here to read his remarks entitled, "The Trouble with TRIG."
Visit Human Rights First's website to learn more about the impact that the overly-broad definitions -- and successive administrations' expansive interpretations -- of "terrorism" and "terrorist" organization in U.S. immigration laws have had upon U.S. citizens, refugees, asylum seekers and their families.