The State Department has reaffirmed its position that illegal immigrants from El Salvador should continue being deported to their strife-torn homeland, despite a federal lawsuit and a plea from 88 members of Congress seeking to allow Salvadorans to stay longer, government sources said yesterday.
The State Department had been asked to reconsider whether the government should grant "extended voluntary departure" status to the estimated 500,000 Salvadorans living illegally in the United States. Under the temporary EVD designation, all potential deportation cases would essentially be put on hold until the violence in El Salvador subsides.
The State Department recommendation has been forwarded to Attorney General William French Smith, who is expected to make a final determination on the matter within several weeks, according to Robert L. Bombaugh, director of the Justice Department's office of immigration litigation. Smith is expected to affirm the recommendation, officials said.
The Justice and State Departments were sued by the Washington-based Hotel and Restaurant Employes Union, Local 25, which represents 10,000 workers, including about 1,000 illegal Salvadorans. The lawsuit, expected to reach trial this summer, asserts that EVD status should be granted because many Salvadorans fear death or imprisonment if they return to their homeland.
In a hearing on the case earlier this month before U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Richey, Bombaugh said that a "new recommendation" from State is being considered by Smith, and that a decision would be made shortly. Bombaugh declined yesterday to discuss the State Department recommendation.
But a ranking State Department official, who asked not to be named, said yesterday that State had reaffirmed its earlier decision, "for reasons of immigration policy and precedent."
"We are afraid," he said, "that if EVD is granted it would result in a further influx of illegal aliens which we cannot handle."
Three months ago, 88 congressmen signed a letter urging Smith and Secretary of State George Shultz to grant EVD status to Salvadorans, but as of yesterday had no reply, said an aide to Rep. Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.), author of the letter.
A major criterion for granting EVD status is whether a nation is undergoing "widespread fighting, destruction, and breakdown of public services and order." The State Department told Congress last year that while the level of violence in El Salvador was "distressing," it was not severe enough to grant the designation.
The State Department official described the department's dilemma this way: "We have 29 countries around the world fighting wars or insurgencies. Most of the world is ruled by totalitarian or authoritarian governments that inflict nasty things on their people. If we do this in the case of El Salvador, it would establish a precedent."
The temporary EVD designation has been granted only 16 times since 1960. Residents from only three nations--Poland, Ethiopia and Uganda--currently qualify for the designation.
Salvadoran relief agencies assert that the government will not grant EVD status because it would insult the Salvadoran government to declare that the climate is so bad that EVD is merited.
Several refugee agencies have obtained a list of deportees from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and are attempting to learn their fate in El Salvador in order to bolster their case for EVD status.