Last October, Saron Taing, 27, learned that her brother was living at the Thai-Cambodian border. Taing, who already was in the United States, wrote to Kitty Dukakis, who is involved in refugee resettlment and is the wife of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D), asking for help.
Today she and her brother, Hout Pich, are in Massachusetts, the only members of a 10-person Cambodian family to survive under Khmer Rouge rule. "My brother is here today because someone cared enough to fight for him to come to the United States. Many Cambodians have experienced separation from loved ones. How painful it is, I know," she testified at a congressional hearing yesterday examining the screening program that has labeled 15,000 Cambodians security risks or "not refugees."
Taing said there is a 14-year-old Cambodian girl living in Massachusetts whose parents are at the border. "What sense does it make that . . . they remain separate? I ask all of you to pray for their lives . . . to [let them] rebuild their lives in this country of freedom," she said.
About 100 Cambodians -- men, women and children carrying the American flag -- led by a Buddhist monk attended the hearing before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee to give moral support to witnesses.
Many wept as Cambodian witnesses or those involved in refugeework recounted the tales of tragedy, horror and separation due to the Khmer Rouge or rejection by U.S. immigration officials. Some Cambodians who came forward to testify did not, because they were overcome with emotion.
For family-reunification purposes, Kitty Dukakis proposed processing applications of those refugees who have lived at the border for at least three years. There are an estimated 225,000 displaced Cambodians who have fled to Thailand for safety.
James N. Purcell, director of the bureau for refugee programs, said that since April 1975, more than 750,000 Indochinese refugees have entered the United States.
He defended the government's review system as "just and equitable and in accordance with U.S. immigration and refugee law."
Purcell expressed "grave worry" over the proposed $54 million budget cut for next year for refugee relief. "Something has to give. And tragically, what will have to give is the number of refugees we can admit -- and the number of refugees we can help feed and clothe," he said.
Testimony from Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) was read by his daughter, Lyn. The statement said the senator is convinced that processing of refugees is handled "poorly." His statement doubted the accuracy of the data used by immigration officers to determine Khmer Rouge affiliation.
Paul D. Wolfowitz, assistant secretary of state, said if government funding lessened, "it will tell the Vietnamese that the U.S. is weakening its opposition to Hanoi's occupation of Cambodia, and it will convince [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] that the U.S. is reneging on its commitments."