The cases of three Salvadorans in the U.S. who seek political asylum slill remain within the administrative confines of lhe Immigra tion and Naturalization Service (INS).
For the past three years CCR has represented Ernesto and Ana Luz Benitez, and Maria Teresa Tula viuda de Canules. The Benitezes fled to the U.S. because they feared their active union involvement in El Salvador would endanger them with arrest, torture, disappearance, and death. Tula worked with Comadres, the “Committee of Mothers”· an organization of women formed to advocate for “disappeared,” arrested and otherwise persecuted family members.
Erneslo Benitez had led a month-long strike in lhe textile factory where he worked, and fled El Salvador when a fellow union leader was disappeared.” A month laler, Ana Benitez was visited by strangers in civilian clothes who threatened that if her husband did nol return, she and her son would suffer the consequences. At this point Ana Benitez took her child and fed as well.
The source of Tula’s difficullies was her participation in Comadres, which had won the l984 Robert F. Kennedy Awards for its work in human rights. When Tula attempted to go lo Washington. D.C. to accept the award, the State Department denied her a visa, claiming that she had communist connections. Over the next two years in El Salvador Tula was arrested, raped, tortured and beaten and she ultimately fled to the U.S. with two young children. In May 1988, the INS refused her request for asylum, making unsupported accusations that Comadres collaborated in ” terrorist acts” of the Salvadoran guerilla forces. Tula appealed.
Partially in response to pressure from immigrants’ rights groups, in 1991 the U.S . government allowed Salvadorans, including those with pending or contested asylum requests , lo apply for temporary protected status (TPS), a program which recognized lhaL the war in El Salvador created dangerous conditions for many of its citizens. The Benitezes and Tula applied for TPS and were accepted into the program.
Although TPS expired on June 30, 1992, all Salvadorans were granted deferred enforced departure (DED) which, in essence, extended TPS until Jnne 30, 1993. ln Tula’s case, a previous settlement in American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh entitled her to a re-evaluation of her asylmn request.
Tula and the Benitez family remain in DED status. Theirs are among hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Salvadoran political asylum cases. Efforts are being made to move these cases along.
On Tula: Sara E. Rios, Michael Ratner, Claudia Slovinsky, Judy Rabinowitz, with David George