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Community Welcoming Political Refugees

September 1, 1985

TAKOMA PARK, Md. (AP) _ A group of citizens in this Washington suburb, who declared their community a nuclear-free zone last year, now want the small city to be a sanctuary for political refugees from Central America.

The Takoma Park Sanctuary Coalition is pushing the city council to go on record against deportations being carried out by the Immigration and Naturalization Services and to refuse help to federal agents.

″Takoma Park stands for a lot of things for a lot of people,″ said coalition organizer Avis Sanders. ″We may be small, but if every small community did something like this, what a great thing it would be.″

Takoma Park, with a population of 19,000, was declared a nuclear-free zone last year. The resolution bars the city government from buying goods from companies that take part in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

City councils in five other U.S. cities - Chicago; St. Paul, Minn.; Madison, Wisc.; Berkeley, Calif.; and Cambridge, Mass. - have declared their communities sanctuary cities, according to the coalition.

The sanctuary movement in the United States has been led by churches that have housed thousands of refugees from El Salvador and Guatamala

The sanctuary leaders are protesting federal decisions that have denied political asylum to all but less than 3 percent of the applicants from the U.S. allies in Central America. The American Civil Liberties Union says 328 of the 13,373 Salvadorans who requested political asylum in 1984 were successful.

Under the 1980 Refugee Act, U.S. law prohibits the forcible return of anyone who ″owing to a well-founded fear of persecution (who)... is unwilling to return to (his or her) country.″

Sanders said many of the refugees have had relatives who were kidnapped or tortured, but that their asylum requests are turned down.

″Our government says they have to have documentation, something in writing, to prove that they’re in danger,″ she said. ″But in most of these cases, that proof is not easy to come by.″

The coalition will begin its drive Wednesday night with an educational forum. Speakers will include a Central American refugee, members of other sanctuary committees and Takoma Park Mayor Sammie Abbott, the fiesty leader of the nuclear-free movement last year.

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