Extend Amnesty Program, INS Says

Article excerpt

Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants avoided deportation last weekend as the Clinton administration granted them extra time to apply to stay in the United States under an amnesty program passed by Congress in 1997 and 1998.

Administration officials say it took an unexpectedly long time for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to draw up regulations to allow these immigrants to apply for amnesty. The rules were published March 24, only seven days before the deadline imposed by Congress, so immigrants - mostly Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans - should not be deported while Congress considers extending the deadline.

"It's justice . . . effectively, the delay of the INS has terminated their rights, so we are proposing the deadline be extended to March 24, 2001," said Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, who supports the reprieve and is sponsoring a bill to extend the deadline.

The decision not to deport the immigrants does not apply to Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy at the center of an emotional international custody battle. He arrived in the United States long after Congress passed the amnesty law and is not eligible unless Congress itself changes the law on his behalf.

But some lawmakers say the administration should extend the same courtesy to Elian, granting him a reprieve while courts and Congress sort out his status.

"This child's fate should be decided in a family court," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said yesterday. "INS has really singled out this child for exceptional treatment."

The boy was rescued from the sea in November after a shipwreck in which his mother died while trying to make it to the United States.

Since then, his relatives in Miami have argued to keep him in the United States, while his father and Cuban President Fidel Castro have demanded his return to Cuba.

The Clinton administration has sided so far with Elian's father and Mr. Castro and has been pressing the Miami family to turn over the boy. …