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#3085: Haitian, Nicaraguan refugees won't be deported for now (fwd)


Published Saturday, April 1, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Haitian, Nicaraguan refugees won't be deported for now

 The federal government will not deport some 45,000 Nicaraguan and
Haitian refugees who missed a Friday deadline to apply for amnesty.
 The reprieve by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the
Justice Department in Washington, D.C., came only a few hours before the
midnight deadline. A formal announcement is expected soon. Although
there is no law extending the period for applications, INS spokeswoman
 Aileen Smith said the agency has decided ``not to deport or take any
action against the possible beneficiaries of these laws until there's
congressional action.'' ``You will be able to stay in this country and
not be afraid,'' added a Clinton administration source who asked not to
be identified. Instead, INS will exercise ``prosecutorial discretion,''
the source said, and will not prosecute eligible refugees while Congress
considers extending deadlines. More than 100,000 refugees are eligible
for protection under the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act or a
portion of the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act, but nearly
half still haven't applied. Response has been particularly
 slow among Haitian nationals. Advocates had complained that tough
document and fee requirements discouraged -- and in some cases prevented
-- eligible refugees from applying.They had asked the government to
protect them from deportation under what is called a deferred
enforced-departure order. Typically, such an order delays
 deportation for a year. However, the latest decision would stand as
long as Congress works on the extension bills. Three Florida lawmakers,
U.S. Sens. Bob Graham and Connie Mack, and Rep. Carrie Meek, are pushing
for extensions of both amnesty laws. So far, the bills are stalled, and
it's not clear when or if legislators will act on them. Earlier this
week, Graham and Meek sent letters to President Clinton urging a
 grace period. Late Friday, Meek praised the latest development.
 ``This humanitarian decision protects thousands of Haitian and
Nicaraguan families, many of whom have been living in our community for
nearly a decade,'' Meek said. ``Congress should take action on
legislation pending before it.'' Local immigration advocates remained
somewhat skeptical.
 Miami attorney Mario Lovo said he had been told about the decision, but
wanted more information before he would feel good about it. ``It's
encouraging, but INS is a political creature,'' Lovo said. ``I like to
be guided by regulations and laws, not the political whims, desires,
wishes of the government. They have to do it officially or it's not
going to work.'' Applicants had long complained the documentation
requirements were too stringent and fees were prohibitive. Fees would
exceed $2,000 for a family of seven. The rules were eased somewhat last
week to allow applicants to file less paperwork and to request a fee
waiver. Haitian amnesty was approved by Congress in October 1998, at the
urging of Meek and Graham, both Miami Democrats, after Haitians were
omitted from the amnesty law covering Nicaraguans and Cubans enacted 11
months earlier. But because of bureaucratic delays Haitians couldn't
start the application process until June 1999.