A 28-year-old Glendale woman Friday became one of the first refugees to benefit from a sweeping new immigration bill that grants temporary protection to Salvadoran immigrants.
The day after President Bush signed the measure into law, Blanca Flor Serrano-Morales, who came to the United States to escape the violence and political terror of her native El Salvador, was granted an 18-month stay in U.S. Immigration Court by Judge Thomas Fong at her deportation hearing in Los Angeles.
Serrano-Morales’ lawyer, Margaret Maynard of Santa Ana, said she had been hoping that Bush would sign the measure before her client’s case came up.
“I had told Blanca, ‘Lady, you better pray that Bush gets back to Washington (from his travels abroad) and signs that bloody bill,” Maynard said. “This woman has really lucked out.”
If not for the law, she said, Serrano-Morales would almost surely have been deported Friday.
El Salvador’s bloody civil strife has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives since 1979, and a large part of the population has fled the country. About 25,000 cases of Salvadorans seeking political asylum are pending in Los Angeles immigration courts.
Maynard said she believes Serrano-Morales’ case is the first in this area to be directly affected by Bush’s action.
The new law contains the most sweeping revision of the nation’s immigration laws in 66 years. It will admit those with needed job skills, reunite immigrant families and speed deportation of alien criminals.
The bill also provides temporary protected status to certain categories of foreign nationals facing dangerous circumstances in their homeland, specifically singling out those from El Salvador. Even though that provision does not go into effect until January, the judge granted a stay in this case.
“When I got to court, I mentioned this to the judge,” Maynard said. “I told him that since the bill just took effect yesterday, I would really like the court to grant this extension. And he said, ‘I was going to ask you about the same thing, counselor.’ ”
Maynard said there were several other immigration lawyers with cases pending who showed up at the court, probably to ask for extensions for their clients.
Serrano-Morales’ husband “disappeared” in El Salvador a few years ago, and neither she nor the authorities have been able to establish whether he is dead or merely missing. She became frightened of living in her country, where unexplained deaths of civilians and the presence of the military is part of everyday life. At first she emigrated to Santa Ana, working as a housekeeper.
She has since married another Salvadoran refugee who lives in Glendale, who is about to qualify for U.S. citizenship, Maynard said. Serrano-Morales could probably qualify for residency once he becomes a citizen, but she would have been deported first if Bush had not signed the new immigration bill into law.
“Of course I am happy,” Serrano-Morales said. “The new law came as quite a surprise to me. I hope it will benefit not only me, but all of the Salvadorans who are here, because there are so many of us in this process of immigration.”
Serrano-Morales left behind her three daughters, ages 14, 9 and 7, who are living with her mother. Shortly after her husband disappeared, she said she decided she had to leave the country to make a better life for herself and her daughters. She told only her oldest daughter that she was leaving, and said she is working hard to send for them.
“The road to get here (as an illegal alien) is very difficult, and I could not bring them because I did not want them to suffer,” she said. “That is why they stayed behind, not because I don’t want them here.
“There are many things that happen in my country,” she said. “Sometimes you wish they didn’t happen, but they do. My country is in a difficult situation.”