``This new immigration law is no good, because what they are doing is throwing us back to our countries.'' Beatrice Colorado is a Salvadorean refugee who has lived illegally in the United States for a little over a year. She left El Salvador with her four children in 1983, after two soldiers beat her and threatened to kill her if she did not reveal her husband's whereabouts.
Mrs. Colorado (not her real name) and her family eventually entered the US after living in Mexico City. She works as a maid and her electrician husband is a dishwasher.
It could be dangerous for the family to return to El Salvador, because the Army suspects Colorado's husband of being a leftist guerrilla, a charge she denies.
Neither Colorado nor her husband qualify for amnesty under the new immigration reform act. ``There are thousands with problems like mine,'' she says. Fearing widespread deportations, Colorado implores the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to ``be aware they are sending us back to a war that is truthfully destroying the people.''
Colorado's concerns are shared by many Salvadoreans in the US, according to the heads of refugee agencies around the nation.
With the immigration law's enactment last November, millions of undocumented aliens, most of them Mexicans, are eligible for legal residency if they can prove ``continuous residence'' here since before Jan. 1, 1982. But the vast majority of the estimated 500,000 to 600,000 refugees from El Salvador's seven-year-old civil war will not qualify for amnesty, according to refugee agencies.
The INS denies that it will start deporting illegal aliens en masse. Nonetheless, ``there's a general perception that everyone's going to be deported,'' says Linton Joaquin, director of the Los Angeles office of the Washington-based Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN).
Civilians started fleeing El Salvador when the war between the Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the government escalated in 1980. Some fled violence at the hands of government security forces and paramilitary ``death squads.'' Others simply wanted to get out of the killing zone and away from the war-ravaged economy.
The Salvadoreans live mainly in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York, and Washington. Interviews with refugee workers in these cities indicate that perhaps no more than 15 percent of the Salvadoreans entered the US before January 1982.
``Another problem is that many of the Salvadoreans who have been in the US since before 1982 have lived under assumed names and/or deliberately avoided leaving a paper trail,'' notes Minor Sinclair, a researcher at CARECEN. Under the new law, documents such as pay stubs play an important part in applications for legal status.
The bill also enacts sanctions against businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers. But a ``grandfather'' clause exempts employers who hired illegals before the President signed the bill Nov. 6.
Many businesses do not understand this, and some refugees have lost jobs or been threatened with dismissal when sanctions take effect in May. As a result of job uncertainty and deportation concerns, refugees are heading for Canada, where they can stay for a year before their status is reviewed.
Immigrants' rights groups argue that the Salvadoreans' problems with the new law are further proof of the need for a temporary ban on the deportation of Salvadorean refugees. Bills calling for such a ban were reintroduced in Congress on Jan. 20.
The Reagan administration strongly opposed the bill when it was introduced last year, arguing that Salvadoreans came to the US for economic rather than political reasons.