Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Adar 5761 - March 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Relief for Syrian Jewish Immigrants to U.S.
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

More than two thousand Syrian Jewish immigrants residing in the United States are eagerly awaiting the issuance of a directive from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's headquarters in Washington that will allow them, after a wait of nearly a decade, to apply for permanent residency. Among those urging the INS to issue the order is Agudath Israel of America.

Abba Cohen, director and counsel of Agudath Israel's Washington Office, explains that recently enacted federal legislation permits the Syrian-born Jews, who arrived in this country in the early 1990s, to apply for the "green cards" that will constitute their "critical first step toward citizenship."

The Jews in question were among approximately 4000 Jews who left Syria as a result of a special agreement between then- President George Bush and Syrian President Hafez el-Assad, the Agudath Israel representative recounts. The Syrian dictator made their travel conditional, however, on their admission to the United States as tourists, not refugees. "Having arrived as tourists and remaining as asylees," Mr. Cohen continues, "they have faced serious limitations and have been suspended in a state of legal limbo.

"Among other things, they cannot work in their chosen professions; they cannot travel freely; they cannot obtain medical insurance or educational scholarships. And they have been unable to apply for naturalization."

While approximately 30 percent of the immigrants were allotted green cards, allowing them to receive the residence and work permits necessary to apply for citizenship, the others were not. Some emigrated to Israel, but many of those who stayed in the United States have taken odd jobs and, finding themselves in severe financial straits, have become dependent on community support.

The legislative effort to help alleviate their plight was spearheaded by Maurice Hedaya, of the Sephardic Voters League, and a number of Jewish organizations joined the endeavor. Agudath Israel considered the legislation a high priority and lobbied hard for its enactment both on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

As a result, legislation was originally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last year by Representative Anthony Weiner (D - NY) and in the Senate by Senator Charles Schumer (D - NY). The bill was also supported by President Clinton and was subsequently signed into law -- but the Syrian Jews have still not found a clear path before them.

Agudath Israel has been in contact with the sponsoring legislators on the issue, as well as with prominent New York immigration attorney David Grunblatt, who is coordinating efforts on the Syrian Jews' behalf. The congressional sponsors and Mr. Grunblatt have also approached the INS on this matter. "While the law has provided the immigrants relief on paper," says Mr. Cohen, "the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service District Office in New York, where most of them reside, has insisted that it can press forward and process their applications only after it receives an explicit directive from Washington." Such a directive will outline the procedures necessary to implement the new law.

Toward the end of ensuring that such a directive indeed is transmitted, and quickly, Mr. Cohen has implored the INS to expedite its crafting and communication to branch offices.


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