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Gallegly Offers Legislation to Bar Iraqi POWs : Government: Simi lawmaker says taking in former enemy soldiers is an insult to Americans facing economic hardships.

September 09, 1993|ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Amid a gathering storm of congressional protest, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) became the first lawmaker Wednesday to introduce legislation to bar the resettlement of Iraqi prisoners of war as refugees in the United States.

About 1,000 Iraqi soldiers captured by U.S. forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War have been resettled at public expense in cities across the country. Another 3,000 Iraqi former POWs and their families are scheduled to be moved to the United States on humanitarian grounds.

Gallegly, a member of the House Judiciary subcommittee on international law, immigration and refugees, called it an insult to take in former enemy soldiers even as many Americans--including veterans of Operation Desert Storm--confront financial hardship.

"While many Americans are facing an uncertain future because of the limping national economy, these Iraqi soldiers--who took up arms against American men and women--are eligible for a full range of federal benefits," Gallegly said in a statement. "Just for once, let's put Americans first."

The theme of restricting public benefits is a familiar one for Gallegly. He has advocated such hard-line measures to stem illegal immigration in recent years as well.

The State Department defends the Iraqi resettlements on the grounds that the former prisoners were forced to join the Iraqi army or face death and would be persecuted by President Saddam Hussein's regime if they returned to Iraq. Clinton Administration officials say that many of the former POWs contributed valuable services to U.S. forces in the aftermath of the conflict, including providing information about Iraqi troop strength and maneuvers.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has concluded that solutions other than repatriation to Iraq must be found for the prisoners. In addition to the United States, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have agreed to accept some of the refugees.

Members of Congress have criticized the Administration for participating in this international effort. Reps. Clifford B. Stearns (R-Fla.) and Donald A. Manzullo (R-Ill.) have led the charge.

Manzullo rounded up the signatures of 75 members, including Gallegly's, on a bipartisan letter of protest to President Clinton. The letter said that the estimated resettlement costs of up to $70 million would be better spent on veterans' services for the American soldiers against whom the Iraqis fought.

Stearns has circulated a resolution among lawmakers stating that "it is the sense of the Congress that the United States government should terminate the policy of allowing resettlement of members of the Iraqi armed forces in the United States." An aide said Stearns has been exploring ways to accomplish this goal through binding legislation.

According to State Department officials, these Iraqis are recognized as refugees under U.S. law because they have been persecuted or have well-founded fears of persecution in their country.

"The State Department has cited a number of different avenues under which they can do this," the aide said. "There's a few doors they can come in under and you want to close all those doors."

But Gallegly beat him to the punch, introducing his legislation a day before Stearns and Manzullo planned to hold a news conference to call for repeal of the Administration's policy.

Gallegly's bill states that anyone who served in the Iraqi armed forces between Aug. 2, 1990, and Feb. 27, 1991, cannot be admitted to the United States as a refugee. Gallegly said that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab nations in the Middle East should resettle Iraqis who have a genuine reason to fear for their safety if they return to their homeland.

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