It was incorrectly reported Wednesday that Salvadoran immigrants who obtain temporary clemency from deportation ultimately would obtain U.S. citizenship. Deportation proceedings will be initiated against the immigrants after the clemency period. (Published 1/11/91)
Community activists who are helping hundreds of Salvadoran immigrants obtain temporary clemency from deportation say the filing fees are so high that some people will not apply.
Applicants may have to pay as much as $330 each over the next 18 months, the length of the program that provides "temporary protected status" for all Salvadorans who entered this country illegally before Sept. 19, immigration officials and community activists said.
"The filing fees are outlandish," said Daniel A. Katz, executive director of the Central American Refugee Center in Washington. "This is going to discourage people from applying."
But a spokesman with the Immigration and Naturalization Service said the administrative costs must be paid by applicants or taxpayers. The program is expected to affect as many as 300,000 Salvadoran immigrants nationally and 50,000 people locally.
"Should the general taxpayer pay for a benefit being allocated to an individual?" asked INS spokesman Duke Austin. "That's the bottom line."
But Katz contends that the bottom line is the humanitarian intent that Congress expressed when the measure was passed in November.
"It seems the INS, if they go through with this, is going to sabotage a program they claim they want to see work," Katz said.
Although several local agencies have reported that hundreds of Salvadorans have inquired about applying or begun filling out the paperwork since the program began last Wednesday, the INS reports that relatively few applications have been received.
"It's in the low hundreds," Austin said. INS officials said they expect the number to rise. "There's usually two peaks: one not too long after a program starts and one at the end," Austin said.
But the slow start this time may mean people cannot afford the application fees, Katz said.
"I don't have it, but I'm going to look for a loan somehow," said Maria M. Mendoza, 42, a Salvadoran who started the application process at Katz's agency yesterday, but didn't have the money for the filing fee.
"If you work, it's not going to be hard," said Mendoza, who works in a neighborhood carry-out restaurant. "But, for example, my son doesn't have a job, and he hasn't worked for a month. I have to look for a way to help him."
The program, which Congress mandated last November, offers a six-month window of opportunity for Salvadoran immigrants. They must prove they have not left the United States since September, and that they have been convicted of no felonies and no more than one misdemeanor while in this country.
Under the temporary clemency, the illegal immigrants could gain legal status after 18 months, and ultimately U.S. citizenship.
Austin said the INS still has time to change the fee schedule because it is based on interim regulations.
The public has 30 days to comment on the regulations, Austin said, and to try to persuade INS officials to lower the fees.