At the urging of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., Attorney General William French Smith has reversed a policy that the State Department said threatened to undercut the six-year program of admitting Indochinese refugees to the United States, the New York Times reports.
The decision may have come just in time to persuade Thailand to drop its unpublicized plans to repatriate forcibly the 140,000 Cambodian refugees there and to stop receiving new boat people from Vietnam.
US immigration officers had been deferring people they ruled were not necessarily political refugees, entitled for admission to this country but who had left Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos for economic reasons.
But Secretary Haig said that the State Department regards with "rare exception" all those who have fled Indochina as "refugees" entitled to admission because they suffered "real persecution" in the Communist countries, and that "to return them forcibly to Indochina would subject them to even more severe persecution . . .," the Times reports.
Mr. Smith replied that his office now concurs with that position, and such people will be "presumed to be refugees by INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] and therefore admissible to the United States unless otherwise excludable by the Immigration and Nationality Act. "