Rachel posted recently on the official beginning of the HIAS Government Relations Department in the 1980s, which she uncovered during the processing of Philip Saperia’s files. She focused on the how and why of the chronological arrangement of the files.
I recently completed the processing of other professionals in the Government Relations Department, including Deborah Mark, who took over as Saperia left HIAS in the late 1980s.
Deborah Mark was initially hired by HIAS in 1989 for a very specific project within the Executive Vice-President’s office, as Special Assistant to the EVP, Karl Zukerman. Mark’s role as “Appeals Coordinator” was to coordinate appeals processing between the HIAS office in Rome and communities throughout the US from which information for the appeals was gathered.
In September 1989, amid Glasnost and evolving Russian emigration policies, the need for Mark’s position ended when the US government changed its practice of denying refugee status to large numbers of Soviet Jews in Rome and appeals were much less necessary.
Most Soviet Jews leaving the USSR since the 1960s had traveled first to Europe for document and interview processing; from there they mainly went to either Israel or to the US. The US government had offices at various times in Rome and Vienna, and HIAS and other immigrant aid organizations set up offices there as well. After September 1989 Mark became responsible for “implementing the plan for working with Jews inside the Soviet Union”, according to an interview with Deborah Mark in Soviet Changes are ‘welcome challenge’ to Jewish aid agencies by Rita Gillmon in the San Diego Union, November 17, 1990.
After six months at HIAS Mark’s position became permanent. In 1991 Mark became the Director of Planning and Government Relations, 1991-1994, and from 1995-1997 the Director of Government Relations and Public Policy. Her voluminous files – 35 boxes – cover the 8 years of her involvement with HIAS, and document HIAS’ broad reach in many areas:
- Working with legislators to affect positive change in the field of immigration and refugee resettlement in US communities and ensure adequate funding for government programs
- Teaming with colleagues in other immigrant aid organizations and umbrella organizations such as InterAction, the National Immigration Forum and the Council of Jewish Federations
- Establishing working relationships with governmental departments such as the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Immigration & Naturalization Service
- Understanding the finer points of the continually evolving legislation on immigration, naturalization, citizenship and the asylum process
- Reacting to global events and the need for immigrant and refugee assistance in Haiti, Cuba, Bosnia, former Soviet countries, African countries, Mexico and elsewhere.