Swamped with Salvadoran applicants seeking work-permit extensions, federal officials in Baltimore are telling the immigrants to apply by mail or consult non-profit agencies for help.
Advocates praised the plan for saving Salvadorans, most of whom live in the Washington suburbs, an unwanted trip to Baltimore and for allowing the immigrants to keep their work permits while waiting for an extension.
But they also said the plan burdens low-budget, non-profit agencies.
"All the administrative burden is being shifted from the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] onto us, and we have to go along with it because of our commitment to our clients," said Lael Parish, executive director of Central American Solidarity and Assistance (CASA) of Maryland, based in Takoma Park.
Nearly 11,000 Salvadorans in Maryland -- and 187,000 nationwide -- have the legal right to work in the United States under congressionally mandated "temporary protective status," which expires June 30. Only Salvadorans who could prove they were in the United States before Sept. 19, 1990, were eligible for protective status.
The Bush administration recently extended until June 30, 1993, the work permits of all Salvadorans who received protective status. The new program is called "deferred enforced departure."
Hundreds of Salvadorans began arriving early this week at the Immigration Service's Baltimore office, 100 S. Charles St., to renew their permits.
"We were getting 200 to 400 TPS people a day, which is just beyond our capabilities," said Louis D. Crocetti Jr., deputy district INS director. "We were already hitting numbers we could not handle."
Faced with the influx of applicants, the Immigration Service decided to give Salvadorans two options: submit an application and a $60 fee by mail, or go to a non-profit agency. The agencies would then submit batches of applications to the Immigration Service.
By week's end, the daily flow of Salvadorans to the immigration office had slowed to fewer than 100, Mr. Crocetti said, as word got out that applications would not be accepted in person.
Once the Immigration Service has received sufficient applications, it plans to send employees to the Washington suburbs to put extension stickers on applicants' temporary status cards. The processing probably would be done at the offices of non-profit agencies.
Mr. Crocetti said the Immigration Service, which collected up to $535 per family in temporary status fees, couldn't afford to set up a satellite office to serve immigrants in the Washington suburbs. But he said the agency will hire temporary staff to speed the extension of permits.
Salvadorans applying for a work-permit extension should mail form I-765 and a $60 fee to: USINS TPS Office, P.O. Box 416, Baltimore 21201.
Volunteer agencies designated to help applicants fill out the forms include La Mision Episcopal, 1001 S. Potomac St. in East Baltimore (phone 732-4911), and CASA of Maryland in Takoma Park (phone 1-301-270- 0442).