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Los Angeles as a 'Sanctuary'

December 19, 1985

I would agree with Lungren that we have witnessed an erosion in the integrity of our immigration law. We differ significantly as to where the blame for that should be lodged.

I would contend that erosion of the integrity of the law occurs when the United States government persists in the deportation of 300 to 400 Salvadorans a month to the internationally acknowledged jeopardy of their home country on the one hand, and then speedily grants asylum to the family of President Jose Napoleon Duarte on the other. Similar disparities are becoming increasingly evident for all to see.

Erosion of the integrity of the law occurs when Western Regional Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Harold Ezell stoops to irresponsible scapegoating, appeals to public bigotry and paranoia and outright misstatements and fabrications to reinforce this hard-line position. In truth, Ezell is probably the best friend the Sanctuary movement has right now.

On Nov. 27, the Los Angeles City Council responded responsibly to a legitimate immigration concern that has impacted our city more than any other in the country. After the Administration proved unreceptive to a 1983 sense-of-Congress resolution that Salvadorans were deserving of extended voluntary departure status, a bill was introduced to suspend deportations of Salvadorans for a limited period pending a study by the General Accounting Office of their claim to asylum status. The bill continues to languish in Congress after being introduced a second time with a study already prepared by the GAO pointing out why other countries neighboring El Salvador have proven to be unsatisfactory havens from persecution.

While the "economic migrant" label for Salvadorans continues to enjoy widespread recognition by the public, it is showing increasing evidence of lack of credibility as new studies come to light.

The action of the Los Angeles City Council is a modest attempt at the local level to face up to a problem and a significant moral issue that has been avoided by policymakers at the national level. Every day of inaction by Congress and the President means lives that we are putting in jeopardy. While the County Board of Supervisors, Congressman Lungren and Commissioner Ezell are expressing their scorn and dismay, a significant portion of the world community that takes refugees seriously applauds the courage of our City Council.


Los Angeles

Rev. Smith is chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Resettlement Commission of the Southern California Ecumenical Council.

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