WASHINGTON (Apr. 5)
The Bush administration said Wednesday it will ask Congress to allow 30,000 additional Soviet emigrants a year, for each of the next five years, to enter the United States as permanent residents.
The move is the latest attempt to find a solution for the growing number of Soviet emigrants, including Jews, being denied entry to the United States as refugees.
Since last fall, the U.S. immigration authorities have been more selective about granting refugee status to Soviet emigrants, aware that the number who will seek entry to the United States this fiscal year is likely to be at least double the congressionally mandated quota of 25,000.
As an alternative, the government has offered to allow the emigrants to enter the United States under the attorney general’s parole authority, but few have taken up that offer.
Parole is “an unsatisfactory solution for these cases,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher acknowledged Wednesday, “because it does not confer regular immigration status.”
Emigrants who enter the United States under the parole authority cannot qualify to become U.S. citizens and they are denied the government financial assistance provided to refugees.
The legislation proposed by the White House on Wednesday would allow the emigrants to become citizens, but would still deny them the government financial assistance accorded to refugees.
These immigrants would be admitted because it is in the “foreign policy interests” of the United States, said Boucher. He affirmed the U.S. government’s “desire to maintain an open door for Soviet citizens.”
‘NOT A SOLUTION’
“Terrific, it’s a good thing,” commented Karl Zukerman, executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, upon learning of the White House proposal.
“But this is not a solution to the Soviet Jewry issue,” he added.
Zukerman said that HIAS, like other American Jewish organizations, believes that all Soviet Jews should be admitted to the United States as refugees.
HIAS has urged Soviet emigrants denied refugee status not to enter the United States under parole, at least until HIAS has been able to appeal their rejection as refugees.
Zukerman said that the new administration proposal is good in that it provides regular immigration status rather than parole. But he said “neither is appropriate for Soviet Jews.”
“The solution to the problem is to give all Jews a presumption of eligibility for refugee status,” he said.
Ben Zion Leuchter, president of HIAS, is expected to make this position clear when he testifies Thursday before the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, refugees and international law, which is holding hearings on the denial of refugee status.
DENIAL RATE RISING
The hearing comes at a time when immigration authorities appear to be denying refugee status to an increasing number of Soviet Jews.
Last month, HIAS reported that 40.5 percent of all Soviet Jews applying for refugee status during the first 14 days of March had been turned down. By comparison, the denial rate averaged 15.9 percent in January and February.
HIAS now says there is a backlog of some 8,050 Soviet Jews waiting to enter the United States, most of whom are housed temporarily outside of Rome.
Leuchter will urge that the government increase both the refugee quota and the funds earmarked for their emigration and resettlement.
Boucher said the legislation proposed Wednesday does not contain any request for funds.
But the Bush administration asked Congress March 24 for a supplemental appropriation of $100 million, of which $85 million would be used to admit 28,500 additional refugees, including 24,500 from the Soviet Union.
As is the case with all regular immigrants, the new proposal requires the 30,000 newcomers to prove that they will not be a public charge and that they will either be supported by someone or have a job offer.
Boucher said it is hoped that families, friends or voluntary agencies that have been dealing with refugees will provide this support.
The United Jewish Appeal has launched a $75 million special campaign to aid the resettlement of Soviet Jews in the United States and Israel.
Said Zukerman, “The Jewish community will do whatever it can.”