President Reagan has turned down a plea from El Salvador's President that thousands of Salvadoreans living illegally in the United States be given temporary refuge. President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's plea was prompted by concern that the new US immigration law would force many of the estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Salvadoreans in the US to repatriate, worsening El Salvador's already severe economic crisis.
But White House arguments against granting temporary asylum to the refugees have been partly undercut by the General Accounting Office. A GAO study released Tuesday said the State Department has no business citing a study by the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (ICM) as proof that Salvadoreans face no danger if they return to El Salvador. This conclusion could hurt administration efforts to defeat legislation pending in Congress that would temporarily suspend deportations of Salvadoreans.
GAO associate director Joseph Kelley told a House rules subcommittee Wednesday that generalizations based on ICM statistics are ``questionable.'' ICM methods for determining whether returnees are experiencing security problems ``cannot provide a meaningful indicator of the extent of violence or persecution experienced by Salvadorean returnees,'' the GAO report said.
ICM's reliance on mail-in questionnaires, follow-up letters, and field surveys to determine returnees' conditions does not yield scientifically valid results, the GAO said. One problem with this approach, it said, is that many returnees cannot be located because they live in areas of combat between the Army and the leftist rebels battling to overthrow the Duarte government.
In addition, US and Salvadorean officials interviewed by the GAO said that ``most Salvadoreans would not readily share sensitive information about themselves in an effort to avoid undue attention from either government security or guerrilla forces,'' the report noted.
Rep. Joe Moakley (D) of Massachusetts and Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D) of Arizona say they will press ahead with their bills calling for a two-year suspension of Salvadorean and Nicaraguan refugees, despite the Reagan decision.
Aryeh Neier, vice-chairman of America Watch and a major backer of the Moakley-DeConcini bills, told the subcommittee last Wednesday that, despite a tremendous reduction in human rights violations in El Salvador, the situation remains ``very dire indeed.'' He said both sides in the war still commit abuses, and that civilians are endangered by land mines, sporadic aerial bombardments, forced relocation, and assassination.
Mr. Moakley, a member of the rules subcommittee, said the GAO report demonstrates that the State Department has been unfairly using the ICM data to dismiss his argument that Salvadoreans deserve protection on human rights grounds.
``We're not criticizing ICM,'' he said. ``We're criticizing what ICM is being used for'' by the administration.