President Bush announced a four-year reprieve Friday for hundreds of Kuwaiti residents who were evacuated to the United States last year during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait but faced possible deportation from this country after the expiration of their temporary visas in December.
The presidential order, similar to one issued for Chinese students after the Tian An Men Square crackdown in 1989, will allow most of the former Kuwait residents to live and work in the United States until Jan. 1, 1996.
Although the order covered most foreign nationals evacuated from Kuwait, it was of special importance to Palestinians, many of whom had been forbidden to return by the Kuwaiti government.
"I am laughing and crying at the same time," said Dr. Iyad Alshurafa of Torrance, a Palestinian physician from Kuwait who led the effort to resolve the evacuees' plight. "I feel the President has finally put a happy ending on this tragic story."
Los Angeles has the largest concentration of Palestinian evacuees from Kuwait in the United States.
The announcement, which came during a meeting with a group of Arab-American leaders in Washington, D.C., elated evacuees around the country.
During the next four years, they will be able to apply for permanent residency through regular channels, such as employer or family sponsorship and political asylum. Those considered a security threat by the U.S. government or who have been convicted of felonies are not covered by the order, nor are those who voluntarily return to their native countries.
The President "has clearly recognized the needs of the evacuees and acted swiftly to accommodate them," said Albert Mokhiber, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
The evacuees were brought to the United States from Iraqi-occupied Kuwait in the early weeks of the Persian Gulf War aboard 13 U.S. "freedom flights."
The flights were intended for U.S. citizens, but they also carried close relatives who normally would have been unable to reside in this country. Many of the evacuated citizens were children, born during their parents' studies in the United States. Only children over 21 could sponsor their parents to become permanent residents.
The INS maintained that the Palestinians could stay in the country only if they applied for permanent residency through regular channels. If they did nothing, they would face the possibility of deportation.
Alshurafa said the executive order will give the evacuees time to resolve political asylum claims or to find employers willing to sponsor their immigration.