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SENATOR DENNIS DeCONCINI
HEARING ON REFUGEE PROGRAMS
We are here today to consult with the administration on how many refugees this country will admit in Fiscal Year 1991. This consultation is a requirement of the Refugee Act of 1980. This Act was passed for the purpose of eliminating
discrimination based on country of national origin. The intent of the Refugee Act was to emphasize that the plight of refugees themselves, as opposed to national origins or political considerations, should be the key to determining which refugees will be admitted to the United States.
Since the Refugee Act became law a decade ago, I, as well as numerous human rights groups, have questioned this country's policy of fairness in evaluating asylum claims of refugees. Of particular concern to me over the years has been the fate of thousands of innocent victims of war, random violence and widespread civil strife in El Salvador. I have worked diligently to pass legislation to temporarily suspend the deportation of Salvadoran nationals residing in this country. Although similar legislation has passed the House more than once, the Senate has been unsuccessful in final passage because of active opposition by some of my colleagues and the administration. Their argument has always been to address this issue on a case-by-case basis.
The United States recognizes that there are bona fide refugees from El Salvador. However, we don't, in this Senator's opinion, offer adequate protection. Foreign policy concerns, rather than the plight of the individual, appear to dominate the administration's asylum determinations.
"Since 1979, continuous violence and civil war has plagued tiny El Salvador, a country about the size of Massachusetts. Over that time, over 1 million, or a least 20 percent, of the country's 5 million inhabitants have been uprooted by conflict as government forces clash with those of the opposition Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). In contrast, even at the height of the Vietnam war the number of inhabitants displaced never exceeded 8 percent of the population." (Senate Report 101-241)
The State Department's report on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 1991 acknowledges that (page 16): "While precise data is lacking, the countries of the Central American region believe there are approximately two million
refugees, repatriates and internally and externally displaced persons in an area with a total population of 26 million.'
However, only 3,100 refugee slots have been alloted to Latin America and the Caribbean for FY 1991. Of these 3,100, 3,000 may be used for Cubans, which leaves 100 slots for the rest of the entire area. (Page 17)
In addition, according to the State Department's World Refugee Report, Central American countries provide refuge for a significant number of Salvadorans in need of protection and assistance. For example, Honduras accepted 13,300 Salvadorans in 1988 and 10,900 in 1989. By contrast, the United States accepted no Salvadoran refugees in 1988 and only 454 in 1989.
Furthermore, only 2.5% of asylym cases filed between June 1983 and September 1989, were approved for El Salvador. (1,004 cases were granted and 37,666 cases were denied.) In FY 1989, only 2.3% were approved. (337 cases were granted, 13,861 were denied and 19,929 cases were pending.) This pattern of overwhelming denial of asylum to Saldavorans has always been of great concern to me.
The administration maintains that asylum applications are decided on the merits and that no bias exists. Therefore, I was particularly disturbed by the allegations of bias presented in an article which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 30, 1990. This article refers to a December 1988 Administration videotape of a State Department official of the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (Mark McCleggen), lecturing Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) task force employees on how to handle asylum cases. tape is clearly insensitive to those who seek asylum in this country.
According to the tape, the State Department official specializes in Central American asylum cases and renders immediate decisions on 400 cases a day. Some of the State Department official's comments are as follows:
The State Department official states that "the most popular" claim Salvadorans make for asylum is "My cousin was killed by the guerillas..." "We have a running joke back at the Bureau that there are no cousins left in El Salvador."
The State Department official states if you're not
convinced about a claim, deny it. To deny is "easier and more correct. When asked about what percentage of applications are deniable, the official's answer was 99 percent.
The State Department official presumes asylum cases are frivolous and that those who are seeking refuge in the United States are here for purely economic reasons.
Clearly, the State Department official is insensitive to the plight of refugees seeking asylum, including thousands of Salvadorans who have fled El Salvador's decade long civil war. I believe that along with our necessary involvement in El Salvador, there come certain responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is a humanitarian concern toward the Salvadorans whose lives have been violently disrupted and endangered by war. I do not believe we should return these individuals to a country immersed in civil war in which we are actively involved. Moreover, I do not believe that Government officials who are entrusted with the responsibility of reviewing asylum cases should minimize the plight of victims of persecution.
In a related issue, I have received a number of report from human rights organizations expressing concern about the treatment of individuals, many of whom are refugees awaiting disposition of asylum petitions, at INS detention centers across the country. At a press conference held recently in El Centro, California, several reputable refugee rights organizations, including the Tucson Ecumenical Council and the El Centro Asylum Project, released detailed accounts of routine beatings suffered by detainees at INS detention centers. These beatings occur with such frequency that one account described it as having "become a sport" among detention officers.
Many of these incidents of abuse often involve minors, and the conditions under which children are detained are sub-standard and inhumane. While INS and the Office of the Inspector General have been asked to investigate these allegations, it concerns me that refugees have little hope of receiving fair and just treatment in this country. The rights of these detainees to due process and human decency must be restored.
I would like to submit for the record the following documents:
The San Francisco Chronicle article, "Contradictions in Asylum Tape", dated June 30, 1990
Two Immigration and Naturalization Service/United States Department of Justice asylum case tables reprinted on pages 17 and 18 of Amnesty International's report entitled "Reasonable Fear Human Rights and United States Refugee Policy" dated March 1990.
• The totals include all nationalities, not just those listed on the tables. Of the total 101,679 asylum applications filed in Fiscal 1989, 85 percent were filed by nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
[The INS began recording asylum statistics in May 1983 by numbers of cases. Each case or application may include more than one asylum seeker. Prior to June 1983, INS asylum figures provided the number of individual applicants. To avoid inconsistency, the charts above include data provided by the INS following May 1983. The charts are based on data for asylum cases filed with INS district directors only. Many applications for asylum are filed with immigration judges in the context of deportation proceedings.]
Source: Immigration and Naturalization Service/United States Department of Justice (published in “Refugee Reports," December 29, 1989).