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  HOME | Central America

Immigration Amnesty 1997, an Escape Route for Thousands of Central Americans

LOS ANGELES – The immigration amnesty afforded by the 1997 Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) 20 years after its approval has become a way to regularize the immigration situation of thousands of undocumented foreigners from that region who are now in danger of losing their Temporary Protected Status.

NACARA is a law for refugees that provides immigration benefits and protects some people born in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Cuba from deportation, along with immigrants from certain countries formerly a part of the now-disintegrated Soviet Union.

According to figures compiled by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, between June 21, 1999, and Aug. 31, 2017, a total of 211,041 requests were sent in by people seeking to benefit from the amnesty law, of which 184,169 were approved.

There are, therefore, more than 26,000 cases that have not yet been concluded for assorted reasons – including changing of address, not providing fingerprints and even notary fraud, among others – which experts say could be favorably concluded to allow those people to regularize their immigration status and benefit by being issued a residence card, known as a “green card.”

“To everyone who began immigration regularization procedures in the past, like a request for political asylum, but they remain undocumented, we’re recommending that they find a lawyer to review their request,” immigration attorney Frances Arroyo told EFE.

Arroyo added that in many cases reviewing the immigration record “literally can halt a deportation, but you don’t have to wait until you are detained” to review the documentation.

One of those cases is that of Mario Tuchez, 57, who emigrated from Guatemala in 1986 amid the fear of being killed by government troops as a suspected leftist guerrilla, he told EFE.

“I was detained on Sept. 12 in front of my house by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service for not having appeared before the judge for a deportation order years ago,” said Tuchez, the father of four US university students.

“One day before my deportation to Guatemala, upon reopening my NACARA case, the attorneys stopped the deportation,” he said, adding that he was released on Oct. 11.

Tuchez, a construction supervisor for underground parking garages with Doja Inc., said that the company owner paid the $5,000 charge to refile his request for permanent residence via the amnesty law.

He said that he sent in his first asylum request in 1991 via the American Baptist Churches program, “which was like Temporary Protected Status” and later that was “supported by NACARA” with an eye toward obtaining permanent residence for himself.

“But I got divorced, changed my address and the immigration letter never reached me, and so I didn’t go before the judge and they filed a deportation order in absentia against me,” he said.

Today, with the renewal of the request via the 1997 law, Tuchez has obtained a new date – in July 2018 – to appear before an immigration judge.

“My advice to ... people is that their cases are not lost causes and they should seek good lawyers,” he said.

Sarah Pierce, an analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, told EFE that “it’s a real possibility that non-citizens in the process of deportation, or even other non-citizens in the US, could be eligible for NACARA without knowing it.”

About 350,000 TPS beneficiaries, most of them Central Americans, are living amid uncertainty over the Donald Trump administration’s recent cancellation of TPS for Nicaraguans and Haitians, and the mere six-month extension for Hondurans.


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