Senate Approves Measure Helping Soviet Jews Enter U.S. As Refugees

For the second time in two months, the Senate has approved a measure that would make it easier for Soviet Jews to enter the country as refugees.

Such a provision, if eventually signed into law, has become less important substantively to U.S. Jewish groups, following the Bush administration’s announcement last week that it would process Soviet applicants for refugee status in Moscow, instead of Rome.

In the last 12 months, Jewish groups have spent some $20 million in Rome to house and assist more than 5,000 Soviet Jews who have been refused refugee status, said Michael Schneider, executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Under the Moscow processing system, Soviet Jews would live at home while their applications were adjudicated.

In addition, President Bush’s announced refugee ceiling of 50,000 Soviets for the 1990 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, is not expected to be large enough to satisfy all Soviet Jews who would like to immigrate here as refugees.

Official refugee status allows entry to the United States, access to U.S. government funds for transportation and resettlement, and the opportunity to become a U.S. citizen.

The Senate measure, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), would give less discretion to Immigration and Naturalization Service adjudicators of refugee status, who since last September have refused granting it to those Soviet Jews not demonstrating “a well-founded fear of persecution.”

WILL SEEK EXTRA FUNDS

Both the House and Senate this summer approved similar measures, but they were attached to completely different bills, one a foreign aid bill and one a bill authorizing funds for the State Department.

Under legislative procedure, such differences must be resolved in a conference committee meeting on the same bill.

On July 13, the House adopted a refugee provision sponsored by Rep. Bruce Morrison (D-Conn.) to the 1990 foreign aid appropriations bill. On July 20, the Senate adopted Lautenberg’s amendment to the 1990 State Department authorization bill.

With the Senate’s adoption Wednesday of the refugee provision to its version of the foreign aid bill; Jewish groups will now focus attention on the upcoming conference committee on that bill.

The groups prefer the Morrison language, which would give less discretion to INS adjudicators than would the Lautenberg language.

The Jewish groups also would like to see the House adopt Senate language requiring the General Accounting Office, an arm of Congress for probing the executive branch, to report by the end of the year on the new processing plan in Moscow for Soviet refugees.

In another development Wednesday, various senators said they will seek additional funds so that none of the 50,000 refugees would have to come here with private funding.

Under Bush’s 1990 refugee admissions plan, 10,000 of the 50,000 slots would not be funded by the government.

NEXT STORY