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Exodus Of Central Americans Continues; Relief Expected

January 11, 1989

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) _ About 150 Central Americans camped outside the immigration office early today hoping to get the documents they need to get out of southern Texas before the government has another chance to keep them here.

Hundreds of others were staying at shelters provided by churches, including some the Red Cross has begun overseeing.

″We’re here to keep a good place in line,″ said Jorge Narvaez Romero, a 34-year-old Nicaraguan trying to get to Los Angeles, where he has a cousin. ″Everybody’s leaving the (Rio Grande) Valley.″

The exodus began Monday when U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela issued a temporary restraining order blocking an Immigration and Naturalization Service rule that went into effect last month. The rule prevented immigrants seeking political asylum from traveling farther into the United States while their cases are being decided.

Vela’s order was to last until Thursday, pending a full hearing on a class- action lawsuit against the INS, but was extended when the hearing was postponed to Jan. 31. Those camping outside the office said they wanted to make certain the INS attended to them before the hearing.

″I’m trying to leave tomorrow,″ said Jairo Ramon Contreras Martinez, a 24-year-old Nicaraguan camped by the door and trying to make it to a cousin’s house in Austin. ″Thank God for the kindness of the American people.″

Dolores Muniz and other members of Harlingen’s Citizens’ Committee for Justice took blankets, sweet potatoes, beans, rice, noodles, bread and tea to the men, women and children huddled under blankets and sheets of black plastic at the INS center Tuesday.

″We’re all human beings,″ Mrs. Muniz said. ″These people are freezing, they’re starving.″

Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for the INS’ Harlingen District, said more than 800 people were in line when the door opened Tuesday.

″It was reminiscent of the last days of the amnesty program″ last year when some undocumented aliens received legal status under a landmark immigration-reform law, Ms. Kice said.

Greyhound Lines saw its normal northbound passenger loads triple by Tuesday on the morning and afternoon buses from Brownsville and Harlingen, a company spokesman said.

″Most of the people, about 75 percent, are going to Miami,″ said George Gravley, Greyhound spokesman in Dallas.

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, said that if the right to travel continues, the area still will need aid from the federal government to care for the thousands of Central Americans who ″will keep coming through the pipeline.″

The judge’s temporary order restored the previous INS procedure allowing asylum seekers to travel from their point of entry to their U.S. destinations to pursue their claims for refugee status. Under those regulations, immigrants in the lower Rio Grande was supposed to voluntarily check in with the agency in Harlingen.

Ortiz joined a special Justice Department team that arrived Tuesday to determine the immigrants’ needs.

″What makes it a crisis is this is a very poor county and this county doesn’t have the money or the infrastructure to provide the services, ″ Ortiz said.

Near Brownsville on Tuesday, crews used bulldozers to remove debris from a makeshift campsite where more than 300 Central Americans began staying in improvised tents after the INS procedure took effect Dec. 16.

The immigrants were ordered off the property by Tuesday afternoon and many took refuge in churches.

City commissioners voted Tuesday night to demolish the condemned Amber Motel, where about 150 Central Americans have been holed up in squalid conditions.

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