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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 14, 1997


Immigration Bill

During my trip to Central America in May, I pledged to address the circumstances of Central Americans who were treated unfairly by last year's immigration bill. The bill's strict new rules threatened to uproot hundreds of thousands of people who came to our shores fleeing violence and persecution. In July, I transmitted to the Congress a legislative proposal that offered relief to these people. I am very pleased that the Congress has now passed provisions that do just that.

In the 1980s, a large number of Central Americans sought refuge in the United States because of the civil war and human rights abuses that then plagued that region. As I noted during my trip, the United States has a particular obligation to help these people because they and their families have now established deep roots in our communities and because sending them home in large numbers at this time would very likely disrupt the important progress these countries have made towards peace, democracy, and economic reform. As a result of these new provisions, these people may now be considered for permanent status under more generous rules than were imposed by the recent immigration bill.

Nevertheless, I am concerned about several aspects of this legislation. First, I am troubled by the fact that it treats similarly situated people differently. The Central Americans covered by this bill fled similar violence and persecution; they have established similarly strong connections to the United States; and their home countries are all fledgling democracies in need of our assistance. The relief made available to these people should be consistent as well. I believe, however, that these differences can be minimized in the implementation process.

I am also concerned about the plight of certain Haitians who are not covered by this legislation. Before we helped restore democracy to Haiti, many Haitians were also forced to flee their country because of persecution and civil strife. They deserve the same treatment that this legislation makes possible for other groups. We will seek passage of legislation providing relief to these Haitians early in the next session of Congress, and take appropriate administrative action while we pursue this solution.

Finally, I believe that Congress should not have continued to permit the application of new, harsher immigration rules to other persons with pending cases. Changing the rules in the middle of the game is unfair, unnecessary, and contrary to our values. We intend to revisit this issue at the earliest opportunity.

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