The State Department asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service yesterday to stop deporting Nicaraguans as illegal aliens until the situation in their homeland stabilizes
According to Patricia M. Derian, assistant secretary of state of human rights, the proposal would allow any Nicaraguans now in this country who do not have criminal records to stay at least through Dec. 31. They could register with INS and would be allowed to work without fear of deportation regardless of whether their visas have expired or they entered the United States surreptitiously.
"I don't think there is any hidden political message," Derian said of the move which comes just as the United States is calling publicly for the removal of Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza. Another ranking State Department official said, however, "It is the kind of step that clearly would not be taken wihout a policy input."
The letter requesting the change in immigration procedures was signed by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher and hand-delivered to INS Commissioner Leonel Castillo yesterday.
"Indefinite voluntary departure" has already been extended to Ugandans, Iranians and Ethiopians during the past two years in an effort to sidestep highly restrictive U.S. laws on political asylum and avoid deporting people who have reason to fear for their lives.
Both State Department and INS officials, who have not decided to grant the request but said yesterday they were favorably disposed, emphasized that it would not constitute a fullfledged refugee program.
"The idea is for people not to have to return to Nicaragua," said Derian, "not for them to come here."
An INS spokesman said yesterday that there has been no noticeable increase in arrests of illegal Nicaraguans in recent months. Various immigrations estimate that as many as 25,000 have come to this country since September, either overstaying their visas or entering surreptitiously.