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#3039: Thousands face INS amnesty deadline (fwd)
Published Wednesday, March 29, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Thousands face INS amnesty deadline BY ANDREA ROBINSON
Just two days before a deadline for thousands of Haitians and
Nicaraguans to apply for an immigration amnesty, the Clinton
administration is considering a grace period for those who miss out.
But the refugees are being warned not to count on it. ``Nobody should
rely on the chance that there will be an extension,'' said Merle
Hall, spokesman for the Haitian Advocacy Center in Washington. ``If you
can get [the forms] in, you should do it.'' A White House official was
even more blunt: ``Bottom line -- if you believe you have a basis under
these laws, you should file your application.'' The deadline is midnight
Friday. About 100,000 refugees are eligible for protection under the
Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act or the Haitian Immigration
Fairness Act, but about 45,000 still haven't applied. Response has been
particularly slow among Haitian nationals, officials say. ``There are
very few options for the administration, and we're looking into what we
can do,'' said Maria Echeveste, a White House assistant chief of staff.
She said a decision could come today or Thursday. White House
intervention may be the refugees' best hope, immigration advocates
say, because Congress is unlikely to extend either amnesty law in time.
Three Florida lawmakers, U.S. Sens. Bob Graham and Connie Mack, and
Rep. Carrie Meek, are pushing for an extension of both amnesty laws. So
far, the bills are stalled, and it's not clear when or if legislators
will act on them. On Tuesday, Graham sent letters to President Clinton
and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, urging a grace period to allow late applications while
legislation for an extension is pending. Graham asked Hatch to approve
an extension when his committee meets Thursday. Immigration advocates
also have urged the White House to invoke an emergency
rule, which would allow applicants to file bare-bones applications,
without documentation or filing fees.
They also have asked the administration to protect eligible applicants
from deportation under what's called a deferred enforced departure
order. Typically, such an order delays deportation action for a year.
Meanwhile, South Florida activists are making a frenzied media appeal
for Haitians and Nicaraguans to file. The application process was eased
somewhat last week when the Immigration and Naturalization Service
issued final guidelines that allow applicants to submit less paperwork.
``We're telling people to just file,'' said Leonie Hermantin, executive
director of the Haitian American Foundation in Miami. ``The lawyers have
intensified their information on the radio. There's lots of information
out there.'' Lourdes Quirch, community organizer fpr Abriendo Puertas in
East Little Havana, agreed. ``People know. It's not for lack of info.
But there's no harm in giving more information. People wait till the
LOSS OF HOPE
But there are concerns that some applicants have become pessimistic
about the process and have given up. ``People are not coming by,'' said
Marvin DeJean, an executive with the Minority Development and
Empowerment Council in Fort Lauderdale. ``They don't feel their
application will be approved. It's almost like fighting an uphill
battle trying to convince those who are eligible.'' Miami attorney Mario
Lovo said some potential applicants had been discouraged by old rules
that required documents they didn't have, such as birth certificates. He
said the late rule change by the INS was unfair. ``For 18 months people
were told they didn't have enough documentation,'' Lovo said. ``Now,
days before the deadline, they're told otherwise. Many of them won't be
able to get a bare-bones application filed.''