Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 6 No. 1 | Spring 1984 (Seattle) /// Issue 7 of 24 /// Master# 55 of 73

the street. I have no idea how I appear. Alonso, however, seems undisturbed. He takes me to another bar, bigger, noisy,’ filled with people. Everyone appears young, most are black or Indian. There are a few whites and finally I begin to feel less conspicuous. Alonso goes to a table where three men and two women are sitting. The men, all young, robust, seem drunk. One woman is older, the other a young, pretty Indian woman. I am introduced as someone from a newspaper. I nod, yes, I want to talk to you. I'm sorry, I will have to tell them eventually, I do not speak Spanish, and you, I can see, speak little English. Alonso, who speaks English well, if slowly, will interpret. They are willing to go outside with us and talk. We say goodbye to the women, the older one has an unfathomable smirk. Alonso tells me as we walk along that there was a message for him at the hotel: his girlfriend is coming up from Raymond. It surprises me somewhat that his life is normal enough to sustain a relationship with a girl. She’s a Makah, he tells me. Alonso pays the rent at his hotel by once a week going to the studio of an art buyer and sculpting in soapstone as many figurines and statues as he can in a day. The buyer then pays him enough money to cover another week’s rent. He is the only one of the Salvadorans who has a room. He says if he had enough money, he’d rent an apartment, because now, at the hotel, none of his brothers are allowed. No one may have visitors in the rooms. ►Salvadorans who are not under the protection of the churches, but on the streets, have a double problem: They are a “refugee on a refugee." The other men are Luis, Rosario, and Raul. Only Luis speaks English, and it is difficult for him. We are going to a park that overlooks the waterfront. Rosario and Raul have their radio, they dance. They are young. Luis is energetic and says maybe we will have to fight the group of rowdy white people at the end of the park. I steer them to a table far from the noisy party. My attention is focused on Luis as he begins to tell his story. Rosario and Raul ►“Imagine if one twelfth or one tenth population of the United States were exiled, and seek political asylum in country.*’ soon drift off, talking to one another and I later worry that I did not try to hear out each one’s story. Alonso explains in a tactful way, “the brothers are going off to sell the rad io.. . . ” Luis reveals that he lives by stealing. He lives on the streets. They have no other way to survive, Luis tells me. They cannot get a job. Immigration authorities will send them back to their country. Do you want to go back to your country ever? He hesitates. “No, I don’t want to go back. Not now. I want. . . ” he has to think all this out as he says i t . . . “I want to . . . you know . . . get a girl . . . get married . . . have a house . . . and a job." Do you want to go back to your country? “If I go back, I think that I will be killed.” I ask Luis why he would be killed and he tells me his story. He was in the Salvadoran Army. And later he was with the guerrillas. I ask did he participate in the military searches of houses? No, he did not. Did he kill anybody, any of his own age, his own people? He does not answer this. Why did you leave the military? He left because he saw finally what was going on: he could not do what was ordered. Alonso breaks in: he remembers seeing a skull one time; the head had been drenched in acid. Luis could not continue with the military. He gives the impression that he was in it before being aware of the Death Squads. But he would have been very young indeed to have been a soldier. Yes, he was very young. The Death Squads shook him up. He stopped wearing his uniform. He dropped out. He stayed home. He was on the street once when two soldiers saw him. One knew him, they had gone to school together. They were going to arrest him. They knew he was supposed to be in the army still. The one who knew him told him to go home. “He told me to be careful. Go away. Then when I was gone, staying at my girlfriend’s house,” he grins, “my mother said they came and searched the house. They were looking for me." He left home, and for a short time fought as a guerrilla. I get the impression that, even while fighting with the Guerrilleros, he came and went in his own house. He fled the country because his mother believed that the Death Squads would kill him. His gijlfriend was worried. They were all worried. So he got out. Santiago Santiago Juaraz is lawyer to Salvadoran refugees. In his face is the mix of humor and ardent intensity. He speaks about the war in El Salvador as one who has lived there all his life. Yet he is from New Mexico. He is about to defend a Salvadoran who is seeking political asylum. It will be the first such case in the Pacific Northwest. „ The distinction between the labels of economic refugee and political refugee is important to those fleeing their country’s violence. Economic refugees are thought to be simply seeking a better way of life and are turned back, like the Haitian. I asked Santiago to tell me the difference. “It is difficult to define what a refugee is in legal terms. How many of the 500,000 Salvadorans in this country are economic refugees, how many political? You talk to many of them they’ll tell you they’re here to make money, support their families, send money home . . . ask them would they die if they went home, they shrug, they don’t know. Do they know anybody who has been killed? Yes. Would they be killed? They don’t know. They might be. Why would they be killed? They shrug. Why were the others killed? They don’t know. There was no reason — you were walking along the street one night with so and so, next day they were killed. You worry. You were seen walking with him. Was he in the union? Yes. No. Maybe. .. “The military might think everyone in unions is a subversive, so they begin to kill everyone in unions. They turn up dead on the roads, or are found without heads, or killed in public places . . . then they may think it’s the students. The same to the students. They launch terror campaigns so that everyone stays away from unions, or students or whatever group is being put upon. We cannot understand this, it has never happened here. “The next step begins. They forget group labels and take out people indiscriminately . . . someone you were talking to, someone who looked like you, someone in your age group. The age group is 17-35 roughly. If you’re that old and not in the military, you must be a guerrilla. You cannot be non-political in that age group. Most Salvadorans in this country are 22, 23, 24. I’ve not met many older. You wonder if they get older. “Yet men in the prime of life, the age of soldiers, non-combatants, are being killed, creating a nationwide terror. How could we function if we had in our minds pictures of soldiers tossing babies into the air — fetuses — catching them on their bayonets? I don’t want to believe that’s happening. How could we believe there are people who rip open the belly of a pregnant woman, remove the fetus, insert the head of the husband? I don’t want to believe it." To be granted political asylum by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), a refugee must prove that he or she will be singled out for persecution after returning home, because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. It is difficult if not impossible for Salvadorans to prove they will be in danger, since the killings often appear so random. “But in the [INS] courts do not provide a category for such randomness," Santiago tells me. “It is not enough that everyone you know in your age group is being killed and you don’t know why. You can’t prove with absolute certainty that you will be killed if you return. So the courts can’t give you political asylum.” Figures from the INS for fiscal 1982 show 18,447 cases pending at the end of the year, 65 granted, 978 denied. Despite claims of independence, Immigration authorities approve asylum cases based on letters from the State Department. Many advocates feel that the high denial rate (some claim as high as 94.5 percent) is due to foreign policy considerations: Granting asylum in large numbers would indicate we are supporting a military government which can’t protect its citizens, and that there are more abuses than our human rights certification program has recorded. What will it be like, I ask him, for Salvadorans after the war? “Imagine if onetwelfth, or one-tenth of the population of the United States were to somehow be exiled, and seek political asylum in another country. Our culture would be destroyed. Our growth as a society would be stopped, stunted. ( “This situation has happened in El Salvador. One-twelfth, roughly, of the country’s population, 500,000, is now in the United States. More than that have left: artists, writers, painters, engineers, students, lawyers, business students, etc. The university has been shut down and inhabited by the National Guard. When the war is over, their country will be retarded socially and culturally. A country that was already underdeveloped made more so by our government, and our war. Why are there Salvadorans on the street, I ask, and not within the sanctuaries some of the churches are offering? “The churches that give sanctuary here in the Northwest are, of course, of the to somehow be another doing an incredible service. They offer to those in need. So many refugees from Salvador live on the streets, down on First Avenue where everyone is already a refugee. Engineering students become winos — artists, law students: drunks, bums, thieves. Some of them just can’t hack it with the churches. They’re given a place to stay. They’re tired, maybe they’ve been running, hiding, they’re thinking about their families, not able to send money. There is a nice bottle of wine locked in a wine cabinet. They break in and next day three drunk Salvadorans are found on the floor of the church. So they have to go. On the street they face the possibility of getting picked up for anything, maybe turned over to Immigration, although this doesn’t happen that often. But they could easily be sent back as illegal aliens, undocumented workers, or just arrested as vagrants. In Salvador they will probably be killed. They are always in hiding, a class of persecuted people without a name.” Alejandra I n the office I had a few minutes with her before Santiago came. She seemed more inclined to continue office work. And, in fact, with the frequent phone calls there was little time to talk. Three men came in, obviously clients there to pick up forms. They spoke only Spanish and there was much laughter. When they left I asked her to tell me her story and she laughed. She said there wasn’t much. She had left Salvador, was caught crossing the border, spent six months in a Texas jail. This surprised me. Alejandra was well dressed, sophisticated, clerical in manner. I would have expected that she came from a family that was very comfortable and had little to fear from the government. Why did she leave? There was some problem with her job at the phone company. Some co-workers refused orders from the military, she said, to monitor and record phone calls. One was arrested and tortured. Following the arrest and torture she and most of the workers refused to record phone calls. They were threatened. She kept her job awhile longer, but going to work became dangerous and she had to leave the country. Was her family in danger? Everyone was in danger. Then she spent the six months in the Texas jail. It was horrible, as you may imagine. Texas jails, at least on the border, are crowded with refugees from all of Central America and economic refugees from Mexico. Conditions are oppressive and unsanitary. When she got out she came to Washington state and worked for the Salvadoran Refugee Legal Service. Because she had been threatened before leaving El Salvador, she thought she might qualify for political asylum and so applied. She is on a waiting list of about 2,000 with the Department of Naturalization and Immigration. I ask her if, when she refused to cooperate with the military in recording calls, she could have had any recourse to her employers. “The military is the employer,” she tells me. “The military runs the telephone company, the bank, the university. They control buying and selling of all commodities. To buy groceries you must go to the door of the store and order through a slit. The grocer will pass things to you, but is supervised. It is a military state to an extent that we in the United States can’t imagine. Santiago Santiago tells me that to understand the Salvadoran refugees I must know something about the military structure. “There is a process of advancement in the Salvadoran army. Starting as second lieutenant, first lieutenant and so forth. You become general, then minister. This is a political appointment — one officer appoints another to administer a department of the government. A minister has the opportunity to control departmental resources. Officers look forward to advancements into the ministries because a career in the military alone provides no economic base from which to operate. All coffee plantations, for example, are controlled by the oligarchy. An officer can become involved in a ministry like the Institute of Agrarian Reform. The ministry is the recipient of economic aid from the United States, and the minister is in control of that aid as well as the departmental resources. The result is graft, the only way for the military to take advantage of economic aid to their country. “Many people think the United States initiated the Institute of Agrarian Reform in 1979, but the Institute existed long before 1979. It was operated by the military. One way the military became rich was to overprice land that had already been developed through economic aid which was usurped by the oligarchy. The military would use capital which had been allotted to the Institute of Agrarian Reform, pay the landowner millions of dollars, and then they would get their kickbacks. “Economic aid we send to Salvador goes into the pockets of the colonels. They don’t have a natural economic base. So in this war they are out to protect their own economic interests. They don’t care about communists, democrats or socialists. Anyone who tries to create a democratic system in Salvador is a threat to the military. Each and every member of the military has taken part in the various forms of graft and corruption. In a democracy somebody will have to pay the price for that corruption. The military will not tolerate that. “The United States trains its own Salvadorans for these ministry posts, trying to create a system we can better control, a system in which the military will fight to win, will fight more than a nine-to-five, no-weekend war. But the Salvadoran military doesn’t want that. Each officer wants his chance at being rich. The guerrillas will win because the Salvadoran military doesn’t have the wherewithal for a military victory. Their officers are itinerants. After Somoza fell, many Somocis- tas came to Salvador. Now there are a number of them in the Salvadoran army, the Honduran army, and the Guatemalan army. “This situation produced their unbalanced economy. El Salvador, a country 20 Clinton St. Quarterly