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Baker Backs Policy of Denying Refugee Status to Some Jews

April 19, 1989
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Secretary of State James Baker told a congressional panel Tuesday that he supports the Justice Department’s policy to grant refugee status on a selective basis to Soviet Jews wishing to enter the United States.

Jewish groups have criticized the Bush administration for continuing a policy started last fall by the Reagan administration of refusing to give refugee status automatically to all Soviet Jewish emigrants wishing to enter the United States.

In public appearances during the past two weeks, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Alan Nelson have defended the denial of refugee status to some Soviet Jews.

Jewish organizations maintain that all Soviet Jews meet the U.S. criteria for refugees, which is that they must prove to have had a “well-founded fear of persecution” in the lands from which they emigrated.

Baker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday there is a review under way in the State Department on refugee policy, but that he supports a “worldwide standard” in judging refugee claims. He said that applications for refugee status should “generally be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis with reference to that standard.”

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the INS, said during Baker’s testimony Tuesday that the United States should “keep in context the position we have taken for such a long time,” that “Soviet Jews have demonstrably been victims of persecution in the Soviet Union, and I see no evidence of that changing.”

“I hope we would not make the mistake of concluding that, until we have a total standard that all can agree on, we are not going to deal with a group of people who have for thousands of years, from czars to commissars, been clear victims of persecution in their country,” he added.

“Despite the remarkable changes under (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev, I have not seen convincing evidence that, in fact, Soviet Jews within the Soviet Union are no longer persecuted,” Biden said.

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