U.S. policy that refuses asylum to hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans who have fled their strife-torn homeland was sharply criticized Thursday in Congress and among groups that assist the illegal aliens.
The Reagan Administration’s refusal to grant special status to the immigrants is based on the “totally false” premise that they are economic refugees instead of political ones, said Enid Gonzalez, director of El Rescate, a group that provides food, shelter and clothing to the Central Americans. “The crisis has escalated,” she said, and there is “rampant death squad activity” in El Salvador.
Similarly, Zdenka Seiner, assistant director for government relations for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the Salvadoran government, in battling its opposition, has undertaken a “Vietnam policy of indiscriminate bombing against civilians,” killing at least 50,000 people since 1979.
Asylum in the United States can be granted to those who can prove that they fled a country based on a well-founded fear of persecution for racial reasons or political and religious beliefs.
In another method of providing safe haven to such immigrants, the President can grant “extended voluntary departure” status. Only a handful of Salvadorans have been allowed to stay in the country after a court hearing and many seeking asylum have been placed in Immigration and Naturalization Service detention centers.
Members of Congress, unable to persuade President Reagan to use his executive authority to allow about 500,000 Salvadorans to remain here, now are seeking to accomplish this goal through legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.).
James T. McGovern, legislative aide to Moakley, said Reagan could allow the Salvadorans to stay here “with the stroke of his pen.” But, because he is unwilling to do that, “we have no choice but to take this route” as a bloody civil war continues to force the Central Americans to flee, McGovern said.
Salvadorans Largest Group
Refugee resettlement officials said they would like to see all Central American aliens granted asylum, not just those from El Salvador. The legislation specifies Salvadorans because they are the largest group of Central Americans in the country.
The measure, scheduled for consideration in a House subcommittee next week, would allow the Salvadorans to remain in this country for about two years while the General Accounting Office studies conditions that led to their immigration.
Arguing for his bill, which has 174 co-sponsors, Moakley said extended voluntary departure status has been granted only 15 times in the last 25 years, to Poles, Afghans, Ethiopians and Ugandans. Granting the status to Salvadorans would be “merely recognizing that a general condition of violence and civil unrest currently exists in El Salvador,” he said.
Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), Senate sponsor of the legislation, acknowledged that he has supported the Administration’s embrace of the Salvadoran government but said that “we have some responsibility for the consequences” of the nation’s internal conflict. “One of those consequences is the flow of Salvadorans into our country,” who should stay “until it is safe for them to return,” he said.
But Secretary of State George P. Shultz, replying to a letter from 88 congressmen, asserted that allowing such a move “would be imprudent” because it would “constitute a magnet” for Salvadorans and for others in the strife-torn region.