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'Clinton Could Have Done More for Immigrants'

May 17, 1997

President Clinton's just concluded visit to Mexico and Central America drew the attention and raised the hopes of many in Los Angeles' Latino immigrant communities. Two representatives of organizations that serve these communities discuss the implications of the president's public statements with JIM BLAIR. CARLOS IXQUIAC

Director, Guatemalan Support Center

If we add up exactly what came out of the Clinton visit to Central America, we are not very happy at all. Because, being the president and having all the power he has, he could have done more if he really wanted to.

All the promises that he gave in all the speeches were just that--speeches. There was nothing concrete. He could have provided some kind of executive order to stop the deportation of Guatemalans and Salvadorans. He went there focused on getting commercial deals, not the immigration area.

We are also disappointed at our presidents--and I'm speaking about all the Central American presidents--because they could have put more pressure on Clinton asking him to halt the deportations of all Central Americans, but that didn't happen.

The American Baptist Church sued the Immigration and Naturalization Service because of discrimination against Guatemalans and Salvadorans from 1985 to 1990. They settled out of court; it's known as the "ABC" settlement. Clinton could have just said we're going to provide residency to the all (in the suit) and that would be something concrete.

Then there are all the Guatemalans who deserve temporary protective status here because of the U.S. government's involvement in the war in Guatemala; many had to flee the country to save their lives.

These are people who are here to work and not to depend on the social benefits of the country. I think they deserve to have permanent residency in the United States.

SUSAN ALVA

Attorney and Immigration and Citizenship Project coordinator for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

I think President Clinton had very important comments to make in Mexico and Central America. The coverage that his trip has gotten, especially in the Spanish language media, has been tremendous. There's been a lot of interest in it and a lot of hanging on to every word.

At the same time, I think it's been very confusing because there's a lot open to interpretation. As with any good politician, the statements were rather vague. At the same, he did say more than we've ever heard him say about immigrants--that the U.S. may have played quite a role in perhaps prolonging the civil wars that have gone on in Central America, so there may be some special responsibilities owed to immigrants and refugees from those countries.

Both in Mexico and in Central America, he talked about changes he wanted to see or explore further, but kept saying he needed to go back to Congress for approval. Knowing the details of the new immigration law, it's clear that without asking Congress, he still has some leeway to implement these laws in a more generous fashion than he has to date.

The president's comments during his trip really change nothing in the immediate future. The practical effect is very limited. In the community, I think there's a lot of confusion and a lot of hanging on to whatever we can get and trying to decipher these words in as positive a manner as possible. But the reality is that if we leave it with just the comments he made, it concretely and specifically really doesn't change anything. What it has done is to open the door for us to pursue him further.

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