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Panel Urges Revision of Immigration Policy for Southeast Asians

Times Staff Writer

A special panel on Friday proposed revising policies governing immigration of Southeast Asians to give preference to “genuine refugees” and to require many relatives of nearly 800,000 Indochinese already here to follow regular procedures to obtain visas.

The five-member commission, headed by former Iowa Gov. Robert D. Ray, recommended in a 95-page report that the two-tier approach be adopted after current procedures are phased out over a two-year transition period.

“The panel recommends that refugee admissions be reserved for those who meet the refugee definition and are of special humanitarian concern to the United States, and that others seeking admission to the United States solely on the basis of family ties should do so by means of immigration procedures,” the report said.

In the Refugee Act of 1980, Congress defined a refugee as a person unwilling to return to his or her homeland “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.”

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The commission did not estimate the effect of its proposed changes on the number of refugees to be admitted, but the report noted that the “great majority” of the Southeast Asians admitted as refugees since South Vietnam fell in 1975 now have been in the United States for more than five years, the minimum residence requirement for citizenship applicants. It urged that steps be taken to encourage these residents to seek citizenship and predicted that, as the number of naturalized citizens from Southeast Asia increases, “a correspondingly large percentage of Indochinese related to these United States citizens will become eligible for immigrant visas.”

The panel said that it is “fully aware that those leaving the Indochina countries are fleeing from oppressive regimes,” and may not be able to return in safety, but it said that many of those now seeking asylum “appear to have less compelling claims to refugee status . . . than was true in earlier years.”

The report recommended steps to encourage the nations of Southeast Asia to continue to provide “first asylum” to Indochinese refugees and advised that the United States reverse a four-year moratorium on accepting refugees without ties to former Indochinese governments or to this country, and “resume processing of cases of special concern.”

The commission endorsed U.S. government efforts to encourage Vietnam to return to full operation a program initiated in 1979 under which, the report said, 100,000 persons have been granted exit visas and 40,000 persons have come to the United States.

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In this group are an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Amerasian children of U.S. servicemen, of whom 3,500 already have been admitted to the United States. The panel urged that the transferring of the others be expedited.

The report noted that 154,000 Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese refugees remain in camps in Southeast Asia, and estimated that another 250,000 displaced Cambodians and Vietnamese are encamped on the Thai-Cambodian border.

It urged U.S. support of steps to ensure the safety of the border camps and expedited processing of immigrant-visa applications by Cambodian camp residents. It endorsed screening programs for Laotian refugees in Thailand, intended to ensure the safety of those desiring to return to Laos.


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