U.S. Says All Soviet Jews in Rome Free to Enter U.S.

The Bush administration Tuesday affirmed its commitment to “freedom of choice” for Jews leaving the Soviet Union.

State Department spokesman Charles Redman also said there is no review under way of the U.S. position that Soviet Jews who emigrate on Israeli visas should be free to go somewhere else than Israel.

While noting that large numbers of Soviet Jews in Rome are waiting to enter the United States, Redman said that “no one is being stranded” there because U.S. immigration laws will not grant entry.

He explained that they can enter the United States in one of three ways: as refugees, as parolees or as regular immigrants. Since the beginning of the fiscal year in October, the United States has issued refugee status to 4,600 Soviet emigres and parole status to 198 others i Rome, he said.

Redman admitted that “there are delays of processing due to the unexpectedly large numbers of Soviets permitted to depart from the USSR.”

But he also attributed the backlog in Rome to the decision by some immigrants denied refugee status to appeal those decisions. Instead, they could come to the United States without delay if they accepted the attorney general’s parole status, he added.

HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, has urged Soviet emigrants not to come to the United States under parole status, because it is difficult to obtain permanent U.S. citizenship via that route.

In addition, those who come under parole status are not entitled to the U.S. financial assistance for transportation and resettlement given to refugees.

HIAS believes that all Soviet Jews meet the U.S. government’s test that refugees must have a “well-founded fear of persecution.”

Redman did not comment directly on the denial of refugee status to some Soviet Jews. He said the Justice Department’s Immigration and Naturalization Service, not the State Department, is responsible for applying U.S. law.

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