The Justice Department has announced a new program to allow 500 Chilean and Argentine victims of political turnmoil to take refuge in the United States with their families.
It is the largest such program since the wave of right-wing repression that began with the 1973 coup in Chile and it is the first to benefit Argentines.
One goal of the program is to coordinate with an international effort to free current prisoners in Argentina, taking advantage of a practice there of allowing political prisoners held without charge the option of exile if another country will receive them.
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Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, in a letter this week to Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. of the House Judiciary Committee, noted "high congressional interest" in the Latin American refugees and detainees, adding:
"Of particular concern to the American Jewish community are the many Jewish prisoners presently in Argentine detention and Argentines of the Jewish faith who have fled to Brazil."
While the program resulted from a State Department request, it has been a special concern of the Justice Department's commissioner of immigration and naturalization, Leonel Castillo. Not long after taking office under the Carter administration, Castillo pointed out that "if you are fleeing from a communist country, it is quite easy to get into the United States . . . If you are not fleeing from a communist country, you have some special problems."
The problems result from the 1952 Walter-McCarran Act to regulate immigration during the cold war. Castillo said that he has submitted to President Carter proposals that would faciliate immigration of all persons fleeing "dictatorships in general."
For now, Castillo - in close consultation with Congress - is using a "parole" clause of the law avoiding the broad strictures of the Walter-McCarran Act. Nevertheless, immigration officials will be required to ascertain that none of the 500 beneficiaries of the problem has communist links.
Two smaller programs designed mainly to aid Chilean refugees were begun by the Ford administration. According to Bell, of 2,554 refugees from South America resettled since late 1973, the United States received 1,704.
The new program is likely to result in entry of 2,000, including family members.
Argentina is believed to hold considerably more than 10,000 political, prisoners but Castillo said the State Department sought entry of only 500.
In a related development, the State Department said the Carter administration is preparing proposals - both on an interim basis and for long-term legislation - to permit a continued flow into the United States of Vietnamese refugees who have been denied entry to other countries.
The New York Times reported yesterday that, as an interim measure, the adminstration will seek entry permission for an additional 25,000 Vietnamese. A department spokesman confirmed that this figure has been under discussion.
However, the spokesman added, the proposals being prepared by the Whited House are not yet complete, and it therefore is not possible to say what the final figure will be.