WASHINGTON (January 26, 1999) -- The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service should grant an "extreme hardship" classification for Salvadorans and Guatemalans eligible for relief from deportation rather than deciding their status on a case-by-case basis, according to comments filed with the INS by the U. S. Catholic Conference.
The comments were submitted Friday in response to the INS's efforts to implement the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) of 1997. NACARA was enacted to assist eligible nationals from certain Central American nations, and their families, who fled to the United States during the civil wars which ravaged Central America in the 1980s. While never granted a permanent status by the U.S. government, many have resided in the United States with government knowledge and support, and have established homes and businesses in the here. Many have U.S.-born children, who according to the Constitution, are U.S. citizens. Without NACARA, many of these Central American war refugees would have faced deportation.
"It is our strong position that the equities the affected population, particularly Guatemalans and Salvadorans, have built in this country, the circumstances which brought them here, and current and future country conditions in their homelands necessitate a stipulation of extreme hardship for the entire population affected by the proposed rule," the USCC urges.
The comments also argue that no legal barrier prevents the Administration from granting the "extreme hardship" classification for the affected groups, and that the legislative intent of the law justifies such a determination.
Under the rule proposed by the INS, eligible individuals would have to prove on a case-by-case basis that deportation back to their homelands would result in "extreme hardship" to them or to family members who are citizens or lawful residents. With a stipulation by the INS, extreme hardship would be presumed automatically in each case.
In its comments, the USCC cites several factors which warrant a stipulation of extreme hardship for the NACARA class, including current conditions in Central American countries affected by Hurricane Mitch.
"Based on the intimate involvement of the Church and her agencies in Central America, it is abundantly clear from our perspective that recovery and rebuilding of the region, including the countries of El Salvador and Guatemala, will extend for several years and cost billions of dollars. Forcing those in the class to return to a devastated country, after they have built a life in the United States, would no doubt result in extreme hardship for them (or their families)."
In addition, repatriation could also hamper hurricane recovery efforts due to the loss of funds sent by Salvadorans and Guatemalans in the United States back to their home countries. In 1997, Salvadorans in the United States sent an estimated $1.2 billion to El Salvador. Guatemalans, whose numbers in the United States are much smaller, sent back over $400 million a year.
The USCC comments also highlight the significant contributions Salvadorans and Guatemalans have made to the United States.
"We offer the ... comments in the hope that the NACARA population, many of whom fled persecution and civil war in Central America and have lived in the United States for numerous years and contributed to our nation, will have every opportunity to remain here and continue their lives without fear of removal."