The cases of three Salvadorans in the U.S. who seek political asylum still remain within the administrative con fines of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
For the past three years CCR has represented Ernesto and Ana Luz Benitez, and Maria Teresa Tula viuda de Canales. The Benitezes fled to th U.S. because they feared their active union involvement in El Salvador would endanger them with arrest, torture, disappear ance, 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.
Ernesto Benitez had led a month-long strike in the textile factory where he worked, and fled El Salvador when a fellow union leader was “disappeared.” A month later, Ana Benitez was visited by strangers in civilian clothes who threatened that if her husband did not return she and her son would suffer the consequences. At this point Ana Benitez took her child and fled as well.
The source of Tula’s difficulties was her participation in Comadres, which had won the 1984 Robert F. Kennedy Award for its work in human rights. When Tula attempted to go to Washingt on, 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, to apply for tempo rary protected status (TPS), a program which recognized that 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 June 30, 1993. In Tula’s case, a previous settlement in American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh (see 1991 Docket Report) entitled her to a re-evaluation of her asylum request.
Tula and the Benitez family remain in DED status. Theirs are among hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Salvadoran political asylum cases that remain in the INS backlog. Efforts are being made to move these cases along.
On Benitez: Sara E. Rios and Beth Stephens, with CARECEN. On Tula: Sara E. Rios, Michael Ratner, Claudia Slovinsky, and Judy Rabinovitz, with Diane George