Center for American Progress

U.S. Terrorism Restrictions Are Making It Harder for Aid Groups
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U.S. Terrorism Restrictions Are Making It Harder for Aid Groups

The current U.S. regulatory regime is making it demonstrably more difficult for aid groups to operate on the ground overseas.

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Over the last decade, a growing and convoluted number of U.S. counterterrorism measures have greatly restricted the work of humanitarian organizations working overseas. These groups are repeatedly subject to vaguely defined laws, a lengthening list of ever-evolving and almost Orwellian vetting requirements, and a stubborn reluctance by policymakers in Washington to issue clear guidance. The impact on the ground is profound—from significantly delayed service delivery to a complete inability to reach hundreds of thousands of people in need.

Aid groups that have long worked to help persecuted, displaced, and marginalized populations have zero desire to offer assistance or support to known terrorists. But the current U.S. regulatory regime is making it demonstrably more difficult for them to operate on the ground—even when their beneficiaries appear to have little or nothing to do with the fight against terrorism. Equally concerning is that many of the terrorism restrictions now being developed—including sprawling name-gathering databases by both the Department of Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development—may not be very effective in actually combating terrorism.

This growing network of legal and practical restrictions present a host of expensive compliance challenges for relief groups already grappling with the complexities of trying to help vulnerable populations in places where designated terrorists are also located.

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