20,000 Kosovo refugees to be allowed into U.S.
White House abandons plans to use naval base in Cuba
April 21, 1999
From White House Correspondent John King
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Clinton administration has decided to allow up to 20,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo to come to the United States -- opening up the possibility that they could eventually apply for political asylum.
The decision represents a major policy shift. Until now, the administration was willing only to allow refugees to be housed at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. Because the base is not considered U.S. soil, refugees would not have had the right to apply for asylum.
Vice President Al Gore, who announced the decision in a speech at Ellis Island in New York, said those refugees "with close family ties in America and those who are vulnerable" will be allowed to enter the United States.
"We will have them here until they are able to return home safely," Gore said.
Administration sources tell CNN that officials from the State Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Health and Human Services will travel to the Balkan region to screen refugees. Preference will be given to those with relatives already in the United States or "special and difficult circumstances."
Officials say the goal of the U.S. policy is still for refugees to return home when the conflict in Yugoslavia ends. But they acknowledge that many of the Kosovars might choose to apply for asylum, which would allow them to remain in the United States.
The administration had faced considerable criticism for its plans to house refugees at Guantanamo Bay, a remote U.S.-controlled outpost at the end of the communist-controlled island of Cuba.
"Our initial plan was drawn up as an emergency reaction. With time to reflect, we think this is more humane," said a senior administration official.
CNN INDEPTH SPECIAL SECTION:
White House: U.S. open to review of use of ground troops
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