Sympathy but no Asylum

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Asylum is not available to a man who says he was forced to help a group in Sierra Leone that the U.S. later classified as a terrorist organization, the 3rd Circuit ruled.
     Musa Sesay says his country was in the 11th year of a brutal civil war when members of a rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front, broke into his Freetown home one night in 2001.
     With Sesay refusing to join its ranks, the RUF allegedly kept Sesay prisoner for over a month and beat him regularly to gain his support.
     Sesay said he spent another month at an RUF encampment where he was forced to provide menial assistance such, as carrying the RUF’s weapons and food, because he refused machine gun training.
     At the encampment, Sesay allegedly witnessed other captors executed or amputated. He claims that he managed to escape to neighboring Guinea, and then to the Gambia, when enemy aircraft approached the RUF camp, frightening the rebels.
     After arriving in the United States in May 2001, Sesay applied for asylum.
     The United States designated the RUF a terrorist organization sometime around this time, and Sesay was called before an immigration judge in 2009.
     Though the court deemed Sesay’s story credible, it found him ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal because the RUF had fully disbanded in the intervening years and no longer posed a threat.
     An appeals board affirmed, and the 3rd Circuit likewise ruled against Sesay on Tuesday, citing a bar on asylum for aliens who provide material support to terrorist groups.
     The federal appeals court noted that Sesay’s case presented the novel question of whether there is a duress exception to the material support bar.
     “While we are sympathetic to Sesay’s plight, longstanding canons of statutory construction and the opinions of our sister circuits on this issue convince us that there is no such exception,” Judge Cheryl Krause wrote for a three-person panel.
     Material support includes “commit[ting] an act that the actor knows, or reasonably should know, affords material support,” according to the U.S. Code, regardless of the triviality of the act or any coercion.
     Numerous courts, including the 9th Circuit, have held that even small acts count as material support.

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