Clinton Delays Deportations until Fall: Central Americans Influence Decision

Article excerpt

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - President Clinton said yesterday that he has delayed implementation of a key part of the new U.S. immigration law that could force tens of thousands of Central American migrants home.

At a news conference after his summit with Central American leaders here, Mr. Clinton said there would be no deportations until after Sept. 30 at the earliest. In the meantime, he plans to ask Congress to modify the legislation.

The president implied that the United States bears some responsibility for the fate of an estimated 300,000 migrants who fled the region's civil wars in the 1980s because it financed and armed guerrillas and governments opposing leftist influence.

At one point, he noted that the United States opened its doors to thousands of "boat people" from Vietnam, "where our country did not prevail," and should not treat differently a region where U.S.-backed democracies have emerged. "After all, the United States government was heavily involved with a lot of these countries during the time of all this upheaval," Mr. Clinton said.

"I'm not so sure . . . the Congress will be unwilling to recognize the fact that these Central American countries are in a rather special category," he said.

Immigration and trade topped the agenda of yesterday's summit between Mr. Clinton and the leaders of six Central American nations and the Dominican Republic, the first such gathering in nearly 30 years.

The eight men signed a communique pledging to replace the scars of war with a new era of prosperity, agreeing to increase trade, foster nascent democratic institutions and battle a legacy of poverty.

The declaration contained a few modest initiatives for Central American nations looking for more attention from Washington. But mostly, it was full of soaring rhetoric about how to integrate this long-troubled region into the booming Western Hemisphere.

U.S. officials acknowledged the summit was as much symbolic as substantive, but said the fact that the leaders met at all underscored how much Central America has been transformed in the past decade.

The declarations on trade fell far short of Central American nations' aspirations. Their economies have been hurt by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which gives Mexican products preferential access to U.S. markets, and they want their own free-trade accords with Washington.

The communique merely restates a U.S. commitment to a free-trade area throughout the Western Hemisphere by 2005, and says formal negotiations will begin at a hemispheric summit in Santiago, Chile, next March. …