Lawmakers Urge Refugee Status Be Given to All Soviet Jews
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Lawmakers Urge Refugee Status Be Given to All Soviet Jews

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A congressional effort is under way to persuade the Reagan administration to return to its former policy of classifying as refugees all Jews who leave the Soviet Union and want to come to the United States.

Since September, nearly 200 Soviet Jewish emigrants have been denied refugee status on the grounds that they could not prove a “well-founded fear of persecution” in the USSR.

“Modifications that affect such sensitive issues as status should be brought to the attention of Congress and not implemented through unilateral action,” Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is leading the campaign, said in a letter sent Friday to Secretary of State George Shultz and Attorney General Richard Thornburgh.

The letter also was signed by four of Schumer’s colleagues on the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, refugees and international law: Reps. Hamilton Fish Jr. (R-N.Y.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) and John Bryant (D-Texas).

Schumer now plans to circulate the letter for additional signatures to the entire House. A similar move is being made in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Schumer acted after Thornburgh announced Thursday that as an interim measure, 2,000 Soviet emigres a month would be allowed to enter the United States under his parole authority, including all the Soviet Jews now in Rome.

Until last September, all Jews who left the Soviet Union were granted refugee status when they reached Rome.

But because enough funds have not been appropriated to handle the increasing number of emigrants, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has denied refugee status to about 179 Soviet Jews. Another 345 are waiting for a ruling.


Officials of Soviet Jewry organizations are concerned over the use of the parole authority, since persons entering the United States this way do not receive the financial aid from the U.S. government for travel, resettlement and health insurance, as do those who immigrate as refugees.

The Jewish community, which now pays about half of the resettlement costs of Soviet Jews, would have to cover all the costs of those entering under the parole authority.

Perhaps even more worrisome to the Jewish officials is that those who come to the United States under the parole authority do not have the right to become citizens, unless they marry a U.S. citizen.

They also cannot bring in other relatives from abroad and can be deported at any time. They do have the right to work.

HIAS has urged the Jews denied refugee status in Rome not to accept the parole authority until their cases can be appealed to the INS.

However, Karl Zukerman, HIAS executive vice president, was optimistic Friday that an effort will now be made through the cooperation of the Jewish community, Congress and the administration “to come up with some money to relieve the problem” and restore the refugee status to all Soviet Jewish emigrants.

Myrna Shinbaum, acting director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said her organization was “taken by surprise by Thornburgh’s announcement last week.

When an NCSJ delegation met with Shultz on Dec. 6, the two sides agreed that the State Department would work with the Jewish community to resolve the problem. Then, two days later, the attorney general announced his own solution.

Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said that while Thornburgh’s announcement was a “positive signal that our concerns are being addressed,” the “response is inadequate.”

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