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Clinton allows more refugees, but ‘too little’ for Jewish group

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (JTA) — The number of refugees allowed to enter the United States has increased for the first time in a decade. President Clinton last week authorized the legal entry of up to 90,000 refugees during fiscal year 2000, up from 78,000 this year. The allocation includes slots for 20,000 from the former Soviet Union, down from 23,000 this year. About 6,000 Jews are expected to arrive during the next fiscal year. While the overall increase is primarily due to refugees from the war in Kosovo, those fleeing Africa and Afghanistan will receive more slots. “We are pleased that the administration has reversed the decline in total admissions,” said Leonard Glickman, the executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. “It has been a long time in coming,” said Glickman, whose group oversees Jewish communal refugee programs. Since the 1999 fiscal year began last October, more than 6,100 Jews have come to the United States, mostly from the former Soviet Union, according to Glickman. While HIAS hailed Clinton’s decision, the United Jewish Communities criticized the move as “too little.” “We are extremely disappointed that the refugee numbers are as low as they are, even as we applaud the administration’s response on Kosovo,” said Diana Aviv, vice president for public policy for the UJC, the umbrella fund-raising and social service organization of the Jewish community. Aviv cited a 40 percent drop in refugees allowed to come to the United States during the last six years. “The problem with this administration is that the rhetoric and action has not matched,” she said. Now that Clinton has set the refugee ceiling, the Jewish community’s focus has shifted to Capitol Hill, where Congress is expected to provide funding for refugee programs. At the same time, HIAS and UJC work to secure an extension of the Lautenberg Amendment, under which the historic persecution of Jews in the former Soviet Union is taken into account in the application process for refugee status, which is due to expire at the end of September. Unlike other immigrants, refugees who are deemed to be fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution are eligible for a host of welfare benefits.