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Sometimes individuals would like to remain in their homeland but because of severe political strife, staying in their native country may result in endangering their lives and the lives of loved ones. This is what happened in the 1980s with many Nicaraguans. Their country was in a civil war and many fled to the United States seeking
political asylum. Throughout the years many other nationals from around the world have faced a similar situation and made the decision to leave their homeland. In 1985 a lawsuit was brought about because Salvadorans and Guatemalans believed the INS (currently known as the USCIS) was discriminating against their asylum applications. Refugee advocacy organizations along with some religious organizations filed a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit was officially known as American Baptist Churches versus Thornburgh, or the "ABC" lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed against the United States Department of State (DOS), the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The plaintiffs in the case were narrowed down to a select group of Salvadoran and Guatemalan nationals by a federal judge. The main allegation made in the lawsuit was discrimination against asylum applicants from El Salvador and Guatemala. Five years later the class action lawsuit was settled and the following year the agreement was approved by a federal court. The final ruling dictated that an eligible class member would be granted an asylum interview after registering for benefits and applying for asylum by the agreed-upon deadline. Other provisions included specific eligible class members and details on
Due to the ruling in favor of asylum applicants, many eligible Salvadorans and Guatemalans rushed to apply for asylum. However, due to eligibility requirements, not all refugees were applicable. A Guatemalan national was to have been physically in the United States on or before October 1, 1990, and must have registered for ABC benefits on or before December 31, 1991. Lastly, they must have filed an asylum application on or before January 3, 1995. The INS became inundated with asylum applications. It is estimated that from fiscal year 1990 to fiscal year 1995, about 150,000 new asylum applications were filed. President Bill Clinton responded by approving NACARA or the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central Relief Act in 1997. This not only benefited Salvadorans and Nicaraguans but extended to other nationals as well. NACARA would provide protection from removal or deportation for nationals of specific Central America and Soviet bloc countries. The protection would be given to individuals and their dependents that came to the United States as asylees. The countries included El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Cuba. The eligible Soviet bloc countries included: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, the Soviet Union, any former republic of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and any former state of Yugoslavia. NACARA was divided into Section 202 and Section 203. Section 202 addresses Nicaraguans and Cubans whereas Section 202 addresses Guatemalans, Salvadorans and ex-Soviet Union nationals. Under NACARA certain family members like a spouse, child, unmarried daughter or unmarried son were also eligible.
Once an individual is granted relief under NACARA they are also granted lawful permanent resident status. Today NACARA Section 203 is still in effect but is only open to certain applicants. Individuals must fall into one of five categories and must never have been convicted of an aggravated felony. The first and second categories refer to Salvadorans and Guatemalans. If an individual is a Salvadoran or Guatemalan national they must meet the previous requirements mentioned and not have been detained at the time of entry after December 19, 1990. They can only apply with the USCIS if the final decision on their asylum application has not been made. If the individual is in deportation or removal proceedings then they may turn in an initial application to the Immigration Court. The third category makes reference to nationals of the former Soviet bloc. They must have entered the U.S. on or before December 31, 1990 and must have filed an asylum application on or before December 31, 1991. They can only apply if they have not received a final decision on their asylum application. The final two categories deal with eligible family members and former Soviet bloc nationals subjected to cruelty or battery by individuals who make up the first three categories. Requirements for these last two are more complicated. The NACARA application fee is currently $285 per individual or $570 for families applying in a single package. From June 1999 to January 2007 about 55,000 Guatemalan have applied under NACARA and slightly more than 43,000 were granted relief. Thousands other applications remain pending at this moment. There are about 4,000 applications pending for Guatemalans alone.