WASHINGTON (Dec. 6)
The American Jewish community will work with the State Department to ensure that all Soviet Jewish emigrants who want to enter the United States can do so, a Jewish leader said Tuesday.
“It is a problem with which we have to wrestle together,” Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said after she led an NCSJ delegation in a 30-minute meeting with Secretary of State George Shultz.
The leaders also met with Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs.
Cardin said the Jewish leaders expressed concern that some of the Soviet Jews arriving in Rome are being denied visas to the United States because of the “stricter application of the term ‘refugee’ “by the Justice Department’s Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Until last September, all Soviet Jews who requested permission to come to the United States were admitted as refugees. They receive U.S. financial support for traveling to the United States and for resettlement.
But since September, about 179 Jews have been denied refugee status by the INS, and another 300 are still waiting in Rome for a decision by the INS.
Cardin said the problem has arisen because the number of Jews leaving the Soviet Union is larger than the anticipated funding.
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From January through November, 15,640 Jews have been allowed to leave the USSR. Cardin estimated the figure would reach 20,000 by the end of the year, and perhaps 30,000 in 1989.
Cardin said Shultz affirmed that “those who are refugees should be able to leave and should be able to come here.” She quoted the secretary as saying that “the doors to the United States are open and will always remain open.”
She said that the timetable now for long-term refuseniks seeking to leave the Soviet Union is three to six months and that the wait for those in Rome is 30 to 45 days.
But a top official of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, disputed that timetable in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Many Soviet Jews who have received exit visas are being told by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “to come back in a year or two” before applying for a visa to the United States, said Karl Zukerman, HIAS executive vice president.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman reiterated Tuesday that Soviet Jews are not being denied entry into the United States.
He explained that the “small number of people” being denied refugee status can still enter the United States under the attorney general’s “parole authority.” But doing so would disqualify them from receiving federal assistance.
Zukerman said HIAS has advised Jews refused refugee status not to seek the parole authority until HIAS can appeal each case to the INS.
Zukerman said the Jewish community is mounting an effort to have the U.S. government appropriate more funds for refugees. Whether this is successful or not, “the Jewish community will have to come up with more funds, and it is prepared to do so,” he stressed.