Attorney General Edwin Meese III announced yesterday that he is extending for six months the special immigration status of 7,000 to 10,000 Polish nationals who have settled in the United States since Poland declared martial law in late 1981.
Meese's decision reverses a recommendation by the State Department, which is seeking to normalize relations with the Polish government and had urged that the special immigration status be revoked June 30, triggering the possibility of mass deportations of Polish nationals. The State Department position had come under attack by the U.S. Polish community.
In a statement, Meese said the decision will apply to more than 7,000 Poles who arrived in the United States before martial law was lifted July 21, 1984. The extension will go through the rest of the year and will allow further study of the issue.
On Tuesday, Rep. William O. Lipinski (D-Ill.) introduced legislation to give permanent resident status to the Polish nationals who arrived before July 21, 1984. Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) is considering introducing similar legislation in the Senate.
Yesterday, before Meese's announcement, Rep. Dennis M. Hertel (D-Mich.) introduced a separate resolution on the House floor urging the State and Justice departments to maintain the special immigration status for the Poles.
"The United States is not in the practice of deporting to communist countries good and honest people who seek freedom," he said. "Clearly, many of these people will be torn away from relatives and possibly children who are American citizens, and we would fear for their safety under the Polish government."
On Feb. 23, Secretary of State George P. Shultz decided to lift economic sanctions against Poland. There has also been talk recently between the United States and Poland of again exchanging ambassadors.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries were downgraded in 1981 after martial law was imposed to curb labor unrest. Since then, the U.S. government has suspended deportations of Polish nationals, whether or not they have valid visas.
The decision to continue the special immigration status for the Polish nationals must be reviewed every six months -- on June 30 and Dec. 31.