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INS Deadline Nears for Hondurans, Nicaraguans in Southland

Immigrants: Thousands got legal status due to hurricane damage back home. But they must reapply by July 2.

June 19, 2002|ANTHONY McCARTNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousands of Honduran and Nicaraguan citizens living in Southern California have less than two weeks to extend their temporary legal status.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service granted them "temporary protected status" after Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America in 1998, ruining croplands and killing thousands.

That status would have expired July 5. But in May, the INS extended it one year, but only for those who reapply by July 2.

About 80,000 people nationwide qualify for protected status, although only about 10,000 have re-registered, said Francisco Arcaute, an INS spokesman in Los Angeles.

Local advocacy groups are concerned that many eligible residents will wait too long to renew their protected status applications. Those who never applied also have until July 2 to do so. All applicants must show that they have lived in the United States since Jan. 5, 1999.

When first offered, the Central American Resource Center helped 500 applicants get protected status, said Legal Director Robert Foss. But many haven't responded to the reminders the center mailed out.

"More than half the people are still out there," Foss said. "We have the resources to help more people than we're helping now."

Julio Cardoza, executive director of Casa Nicaragua in South Gate, said his group has seen fewer people coming in for applications.

Cardoza said he visits Nicaragua four times a year, and almost four years after Hurricane Mitch, there are still few jobs.

Nicaraguans living in the states send home $600 million to $800 million a year, he said. The money that they and Hondurans funnel home is reason enough to grant the communities temporary legal status, he said.

"Remittances more than dwarf any kind of foreign aid," he said. "It's something that the U.S. can do that doesn't come out of the Treasury."

Renewal applications are available on the Internet (www.ins.gov) and through the INS at 1-800-870-3676.

They must be postmarked by July 2; local INS offices will not accept the extension forms.

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