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Sen. Reed Criticized on Syrian Bill

October 11, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Jack Reed, who is pushing for legislation to grant about 10,000 Liberians permanent residency in the United States, is being criticized for blocking a bill that would give a group of Syrian Jews the same status.

Reed, D-Rhode Island, said he is holding up legislation in the Senate in order to pressure his colleagues to consider the Liberian bill. But he stopped short of saying he would allow the proposal for the Syrian Jews to go forward if Congress doesn’t consider his bill.

``I’m not opposed to allowing the Syrian Jews to get residency,″ Reed said. ``But I want to treat both groups equally. This is a classic case of making our concerns known without jeopardizing other concerns.″

But bundling the bills is unfair, some say.

``Senator Reed has a good issue for his constituents,″ said Maurice Hedaya, spokesman for the Sephardic Voters League in New York, which is advocating for the Syrian Jews. ``But this is not good news for us. All this is doing is holding our bill ransom, and Senator Reed should let go.″

The bill, which passed the House and is being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Charles Schumer, would require the attorney general to adjust the status of about 2,000 Syrian Jews from asylum-seekers to permanent residents. That would allow them to travel more freely, work in their chosen professions and more quickly seek U.S. citizenship.

``It’s nearly impossible for them to get bank loans,″ Hedaya said. ``These are good people who are trying to build themselves in the community.″

Many of the Syrian Jews came to America under travel visas to escape religious and political persecution. If they don’t get permanent residency status, they will still be eligible for citizenship.

The Liberians fled civil war in their country for America in 1991 and were granted temporary protection status that allowed them to stay for a year. Since then, they’ve received annual extensions _ the most recent came last month. Because of their temporary status, the Liberians are not eligible for citizenship.

Reed is pushing for a bill to get the Liberians permanent residency, but the legislation is facing opposition in the House.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said he will work with Reed to build support for the bill.

``I think the Liberians are a good cause, but I’m pleading with Jack Reed not to mix apples and oranges,″ Schumer said. ``I am hopeful that by appealing to his strong sense of fairness, he will remove his hold on this bill.″

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The bill to grant Syrian Jews permanent residency is H.R. 4681.

The bill to grant Liberians permanent residency is S. 656.

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