Latin Americans demand change in refugee law

March 26, 1998|By SUN-SENTINEL

WASHINGTON -- Rallying outside the Capitol, hundreds of Central Americans demanded yesterday that the United States accept refugees from their war-torn homelands the same way it welcomes those who fled from Cuba and Nicaragua.

The demonstration renewed a bitter debate about whether those who flee leftist regimes should get preferential treatment over those who escape other forms of oppression or upheaval.

Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans streamed in from various parts of the Eastern Seaboard to rally behind legislation that would make tens of thousands of Central Americans permanent legal residents of the United States.

Only then, the demonstrators said, can many of their countrymen put aside the specter of deportation, get work permits, go to college, obtain drivers' licenses and generally emerge from the shadows of American life.

The 1997 Victims of Communism Relief Act gave permanent legal status to refugees from communist Cuba and to those who left Nicaragua during the leftist Sandinista regime.

Other Central Americans may remain in the United States while they pursue applications for legal status. They must prove, for example, that they would suffer extreme hardship if sent back to their homelands.

"The people who are here are people who ran away from civil war," said Rosa Gutierrez-Abraham, a Salvadoran who came along with 200 others from Worcester, Mass. "People who were lucky escaped. People who were not lucky, they got killed. We were blessed by God. We came here."

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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