Ruling may assist Jews seeking asylum in the U.S.

WASHINGTON — In an important development for Jews fleeing persecution in the former Soviet Union, a U.S. immigration panel agreed to grant asylum to a Ukrainian Jewish father and son who were victimized by anti-Semitism.

The decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals last week upheld an immigration judge's earlier ruling that the two did, in fact, have a "well-founded fear of persecution" based on the conditions in Ukraine.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society commended the decision, saying it reconfirms the fact that life for Jews and other minorities in the former Soviet Union "remains precarious."

Under U.S. immigration law, those seeking asylum in the United States must prove a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. The burden of proof is more difficult for those already in the United States seeking asylum than for those remaining in the former Soviet Union and seeking to enter the United States as refugees.

Under legislation known as the Lautenberg Amendment, Jews and evangelical Christians from the former Soviet Union can be granted refugee status if they show a "credible basis for concern" about the possibility of persecution.

Because the immigration board found that there are indeed such fears in Ukraine, the decision is expected to make it easier for other Jews to seek asylum in the United States.

While living in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in 1992 and 1993, the father — whose name was withheld by immigration officials — suffered repeated beatings, received multiple handwritten anti-Semitic threats, and had his apartment vandalized by anti-Semitic nationalists, according to the immigration board's decision. In addition, his son was subjected to degradation and intimidation on account of his being Jewish.

A federal judge initially found that the two had suffered persecution in Ukraine — a decision that the Immigration and Naturalization Service appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The INS argued that they only experienced "isolated acts of random violence perpetrated by unknown individuals."

The INS also said they did not have a well-founded fear of persecution because anti-Semitism had ceased to be government policy in Ukraine.

The immigration board disagreed, finding no evidence that conditions had changed in Ukraine, and clear evidence that the two suffered persecution based on their Jewish nationality.

"This was an important decision by the government decision-making body on immigration affairs, and it was a recognition on their part that Jews and other religious minorities continue to have a well-founded fear of persecution," said Leonard Glickman, executive vice president of HIAS.