A little more than a year ago, members of the Flores-Arias family of Adams-Morgan faced the prospect of separation because they were here illegally and the Immigration and Naturalization Service was trying to deport some of them back to El Salvador.
But what could have turned into a tragedy for the seven-member family is a different kind of story with a happy ending for all.
Maria Olimpia Flores-Arias, 38, a salad maker at the Kennedy Center; her husband, Manuel Antonio Flores, 41, a kitchen worker in a Capitol Hill restaurant, and a 21-year-old son have received temporary residency in this country through the special one-year amnesty program under the new immigration law.
This means they can live and work here legally.
Moreover, their four minor children, who had been subject to deportation proceedings for several years and do not qualify for amnesty because they arrived in this country after the Jan. 1, 1982, amnesty cutoff date, will not be deported, according to INS spokesman Duke Austin.
A family unity policy announced by INS Commissioner Alan Nelson several months ago stipulates that the INS will not deport minor children who do not qualify for amnesty if both parents receive amnesty.
And, 18 months from now, when Maria Olimpia and Manuel receive their permanent residency cards, they can petition for their children to become legal, permanent residents of the United States.
The family's future had been in doubt since May 1982 when Manuel Flores returned to El Salvador briefly to bring into the United States the couple's four children: Maria, 16; Olinda, 15; Jose Luis, 14, and Noel, 11.
Before that, the parents had lived illegally in the D.C. area but had not been detected by the INS.
Manuel Flores and the children were apprehended by the INS in Harlingen, Tex., near the Mexican border. Even though they were later released, the INS began deportation proceedings against them and their cases began moving slowly through the immigration courts.
Their immigration troubles behind them, the Flores-Arias family was looking forward to an especially festive Christmas season.
Through the long ordeal, Maria Flores-Arias said, she was sustained by her strong faith and belief that everything would turn out right.
"I've always said that I don't put my faith in men," she said recently. "I put my faith in God. He alone can make miracles."