Move in Congress to cut legal immigration

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WASHINGTON — A House of Representatives subcommittee has struck a potentially devastating blow to immigration programs — and Jewish refugees seeking to come to the United States.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims voted last week to slash the number of refugees allowed into the United States by about half, cut overall legal immigration by about one-third and end family reunification programs for all relatives except spouses and minors.

The full committee plans to consider the measure in September after Congress' summer recess. Jewish activists and members of Congress, including Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), are already working to fight the cuts.

"We will do everything we can to ensure these cuts do not become law," said Diana Aviv, director of the Washington office of the Council of Jewish Federations, which has spearheaded the Jewish community's efforts on immigration reform.

The subcommittee approved a measure reducing the number of slots reserved for refugees to 50,000, about half of the current allotment. The Immigration and Naturalization Service currently reserves about 35,000 slots for Jews seeking to come to the United States from the former Soviet Union.

Jewish activists fear that a cut in the program would also lead to a cut for refugees from the former Soviet Union.

Activists fear that without the refugee program, many Jews from the former Soviet Union would have to wait years to come to the United States or possibly not be able to come at all, especially if the overall number of legal immigrants allowed into the country is reduced.

The measure approved by the subcommittee would reduce legal immigration from about 830,000 to 585,000. It also would restrict visas to highly skilled workers as well as to the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal residents.

The measure, known as the Immigration in the National Interest Act, was introduced by subcommittee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

Three Jewish congressmen who are staunch immigration advocates, Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Berman have already begun to organize for the expected showdown, according to Capitol Hill aides.

The three members of Congress are drafting amendments to restore the cuts in the refugee program as well as the overall immigration numbers, the aides said.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) has also expressed support for immigration programs in the past.