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Thornburgh Defends U.S. Refusal to Admit Some Jews As Refugees

Attorney General Dick Thornburgh on Thursday defended the U.S. decision to refuse to admit some Soviet Jews to the United States as refugees.

Prior to last fall, Soviet Jews wishing to immigrate to the United States were automatically granted refugee status. But since Sept. 14, 1,470 Soviet Jews have been denied entry as refugees, on the grounds that they could not prove to have a “well-founded fear of persecution.”

“No longer were we dealing exclusively with the identified dissidents, the classic refuseniks, those persons who had a clear, well-founded fear of persecution, who had in fact been persecuted,” Thornburgh told disgruntled United Jewish Appeal leaders here.

“We were faced with a larger number of persons who sought to come to the United States for family and economic reasons, and under the case-by-case examination requirements of the law, these determinations, in an increasing number of cases, were adverse,” the attorney general explained.

Sylvia Hassenfeld, president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, told Thornburgh that “there is a long history of incipient anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.”

Describing career-related discrimination, she said that Soviet Jewish adults are “not able to climb up the ladder. They would be able to climb up with the same skills in an open society, and again I say to you, ‘Isn’t that persecution?’ “

Thornburgh responded that under U.S. law, refugee status cannot be granted to entire classes of people in a given country. Such status has to be granted on a case-by-case basis.

‘SUBTLE’ KINDS OF PERSECUTION

He said, however, that Soviet Jews “have a special status” as potential refugees and immigrants because they have faced “subtle kinds of covert persecution that have been characteristic of the long history of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.”

One effort being made is to provide additional information to Immigration and Naturalization Service adjudicators on the history of Jews in the Soviet Union, he said.

Martin Stein, chairman of the UJA board of trustees, complained to Thornburgh that the flow of Soviet Jewish refugees to the United States is too slow.

“One of the things that is eating up a lot of the money that we could use for resettlement in the States or wherever is the fact that we are spending it in Italy,” where 9,000 Soviet Jews are waiting entry to the United States, he said.

Thornburgh responded that the INS recently increased the number of its adjudicators in Rome.

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