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U.S. Refugee Limit 70,000 in 2003
Fri Sep 20, 5:27 PM ET

By Suzanne Gamboa, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush has told the State Department it can authorize 70,000 refugees to enter the United States in 2003, far fewer than immigrant advocates had hoped for after tightened security prevented thousands from seeking new lives in this country this year.

Despite authorization of 70,000 refugees the year ending Sept. 30, only about 28,000 were allowed to resettle in the United States. The others, who were held up by delays in processing and security checks, will have to try to gain entry in 2003.

As a result, advocates had hoped that next year between 100,000 to 140,000 would be allowed in.

"We ... are actively working until the last minute and the ink is dry ... to see the administration sets as high a target as possible," said Gideon Arnoff, a Washington representative for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

The administration released details of the refugee authorization in a memo posted on the White House Web site Friday. The State Department still must consult with Congress, which has no power to reject the limit, and Bush will sign off on the final number by the end of the year.

White House spokesman Taylor Gross said the administration "is committed to increasing the number of refugees admitted compared to this year. The purpose of the consultations is to engage in discussions in exact numbers."

Asked whether the numbers would increase in those consultations, Gross said: "We're not yet ready to announce a number."

Immigration groups, however, said the proposal is an indication of where the administration is headed.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of a Senate immigration committee, said he had met with Secretary of State Colin Powell about increasing the number and recommended improvements for processing and better identifying vulnerable populations.

"Considering the enormity of the world refugee population and the gravity of our humanitarian obligations, not a single refugee slot should go to waste," Kennedy said.

Usually lawmakers quickly approve the president's proposal, but this year advocates are urging members of Congress to press for the higher numbers, said Hiram Ruiz, spokesman for Immigration and Refugee Services of America. The national group has partner organizations in 35 cities in the United States.

Arnoff said his group supports higher security measures, but they have consequences. For example, they have caused a delay of up to eight months in processing security reviews for Iranian religious minorities.

"What's resulted is an extremely long delay for Iranian Baha'is, Jews and Christians, who are not a threat to us, but do come from a country that is a supporter of terrorism, which is the reason they are fleeing and the reason why they are seeking a safe life and is the reason why we are opposed to the government of Iran," Arnoff said.

Arnoff said more resources are needed for security clearances for refugees, many of whom are living in United Nations operated refugee camps.

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