Legislation designed to make the U.S. refugee population more diverse is gaining support on Capitol Hill.
Senate and House panels have approved measures to revise the definition of "refugee" to include persons other than those fleeing communism or the Middle East.
The latest vote on the revision came yesterday in the House Subcommittee on immigration, refugees and international law. A Senate measure, approved by the Judiciary Committee last month, is expected to go to the floor in early September.
Both versions, which contain significant differences, were spawned by an administration proposal sent to Capitol Hill in March.
The administration sought to amend the provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that restricts refugee admission to persons fleeing communism or the Mideast. Some members of Congress and others have criticized the provision as ideologically, geographically and racially discriminatory.
Under the administration proposal, a "refugee" would be defined as "any person outside of his or her country who is unwilling or unable to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."
The proposal also attempts to bring more order to federal procedures for admitting refugees, and calls for raising from 17,400 to 50.000 the annual ceiling for refugees admitted to the United States under nonemergency conditions.
Senate and House bills agree with the basic administration proposal to revise the definition of a "refugees" and increase the annual flow to this country. However, the two bills differ over who should administer refugee resettlement and on the length of time the federal government should provide 100 percent of costs to states receiving refugees.
The House subcommittee wants to establish an office in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to administer refugee resettlement.
The senate-version contains no such provision. A Judiciary Committee source explained: "We already have a U.S. coordinator for refugee affairs [Ambassador Dick Ckark] in the State Department. We want to strenghten Clark's hand, not weaken it.
Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y), head of the House Subcommittee, said yesterday that the proposed HEW office would complement Clark's operation.
Under the Senate and administration proposals, states incurring refugee resettlement expenses (in particular, medical aid and cash public asistance) would receive 100 percent federal reimbursement for two years. The House version would authorize full federal funding for four years.