Fred Thompson has made the tough enforcement of immigration laws
a cornerstone of his presidential campaign platform, running
television ads in Iowa titled "No Amnesty" and skewering rivals for
their immigration records.
But at least twice as a US senator, Mr. Thompson personally
intervened on behalf of immigrants at risk of deportation, according
to papers in his Senate archives here and interviews with the
In 1999, he pleaded with the US Immigration and Naturalization
Service to reinstate a green-card application from a Korean family
who became illegal when their visas expired. In 2000, Thompson
passed a private law to grant green cards - or permanent residence -
to a disabled Bolivian widow and three of her children. Under public
law, the family would have had to leave the United States.
The episodes reveal a greater open-mindedness toward immigrants
in legal limbo than has been evident from Thompson on the campaign
"I'm very appreciating about what he do," the Bolivian widow,
Jacqueline Salinas, of Memphis, Tenn., said in a phone interview
last week. "He's a blessing for my family."
She says she became a US citizen this year.
In letters to federal officials and in remarks in the Senate at
the time, Thompson said the families deserved special treatment for
"humanitarian reasons" and their "extraordinary circumstances." In
memos to Thompson, Senate aides also noted the prospect of positive
The headline of an August 1999 news release from his Senate
office read, "Thompson Introduces Legislation to Assist St. Jude
Ms. Salinas and her husband came to the United States in 1996 on
tourist visas so their 7-year-old daughter could receive medical
care for a rare cancer. About a year later, her husband and a 3-
year-old daughter were killed in a car accident that Salinas says
left her paralyzed while seven-months pregnant.
The family stayed in the United States by renewing six-month
visas. "Because they do not meet the requirements for permanent
residence under current immigration law ... the Salinas family will
be forced to leave the United States following the expiration of
their tourist visas," Thompson said in a September 1999 letter
asking Sen. Spencer Abraham, then chairman of the immigration
subcommittee, to consider his private bill. "It is my hope that we
can act soon to prevent another tragic setback for the Salinas
The Korean family, Seung and Eun Kyung Lee, came to the United
States with their son in 1988 on business and tourist visas, Mr. Lee
said in an interview. When the visas expired around 1994, they
became "out of status," or illegal, according to Mr. Lee and a
September 1999 memo to Thompson from an aide.
In 1994, the family paid a $1,000 penalty that allowed Ms. Lee's
father, a US citizen, to sponsor a petition to "adjust" them to
legal status. But in May 1999, with the petition still pending, the
father died, which would normally trigger an automatic revocation.
A few months later, Thompson wrote to a senior INS official,
asking that the petition be reinstated under a humanitarian
exception. "To deport this family and send them back to South Korea
now because of INS processing delays ... would pose an undue
hardship on the Lees and their children," he wrote, describing the
family as "model citizens in the Nashville community."
The next month, the INS made the exception. A spokeswoman for US
Citizenship and Immigration Services said the agency couldn't
comment on specific cases because of privacy laws.
The Lees regained legal status in 2000 when their green-card
application was approved, Mr. Lee said. "Mr. Thompson stood for my
family," he said in a phone interview last week. "We were very, very
Lee and his wife became citizens this year, he said. He owns a
home-building firm, and the family lives in a four-bedroom house in
the Nashville suburbs. …