Jewish Groups Raise Objections to Proposed Immigration Policy

Jewish groups have expressed concern with portions of a new U.S. immigration policy unveiled by the Clinton administration this week and supported by key members of Congress.

Both the American Jewish Committee and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society said that elements of the plan that deal with asylum-seekers could damage the American tradition of allowing persecuted people, including Jews, to seek refuge here.

The plan, which deals with a range of immigration-related issues, was announced at a news conference Tuesday by President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Attorney General Janet Reno.

The new policy was formulated against a backdrop of concern about illegal immigration into the United States and overly easy access to the country by potential terrorists.

The case of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the Muslim cleric linked to the suspects in the World Trade Center bombing and an aborted plot to bomb other New York targets, brought public attention to the ease with which some people tied to terrorism enter the country.

The provision that particularly concerns Jewish groups is a proposal to quicken the procedures by which illegal aliens are processed at points of entry to the United States.

The groups have expressed concern that under the proposed new policy, low-level officials without the proper training could turn asylum seekers away without granting them proper channels to appeal.

‘STOP THE DANGEROUS TREND’

“We must stop the dangerous trend to undermining basic refugee and asylum principles that began with shutting out Haitian boat people and now continues with the introduction of this dangerous bill,” Gary Rubin, the American Jewish Committee’s director of national affairs, said in a statement.

AJCommittee took part in a news conference here Tuesday called by religious, ethnic and human rights organizations to express concern about the plan’s effect on asylum-seekers.

The administration, for its part, is concerned that some aliens take advantage of a lengthy set of administrative procedures to stay in the country for months or years without legal status.

Legislation containing many of the same proposals in the Clinton plan is now pending in both houses of Congress.

While the proposed changes are an improvement over the current practice of turning back shiploads of asylum-seekers, HIAS officials said the organization would like to see greater human rights protections in place for the refugees.

“We remember with grief and horror the fate of the ship the St. Louis, filled with European Jews, (that was) forced back to Hitler’s inferno for lack of safe haven in the United States,” the group said.

In announcing the new policy Tuesday, Clinton said the United States cannot “allow our people to be endangered by those who would enter our country to terrorize Americans.”

“We must say no to illegal immigration, so that we can continue to say yes to legal immigration.”

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