fleeing a war are given a chance for asylum, and the law making their transport illegal. He says the Merkt case has not resolved that conflict. And given a different judge, another set of jurors, and different prosecutory tactics, Elder may not necessarily get off with a probated sentence. MORE THAN 150 supporters, some from as far north as . Dallas, stood outside the U.S. District Court as a triumphant Merkt emerged to explain to the national news media her reasons for assisting the Salvadorans. Hernan Gonzalez, a Brownsville diocese official, represented Bishop John Fitzpatrick, who has supported Merkt’s stance. Gonzalez questioned the U.S. policy that made such a stance necessary, while emphasizing that it was not a church-state standoff. Any humanitarian individual, regardless of religious belief, would be compelled to assist Salvadorans frightened for their lives, he said. “We will continue to come to the assistance of [refugees] who come here, to provide shelter, advice and a listening ear. Gonzalez then addressed the larger issue of U.S. foreign policy: “Our policy in El Salvador is an embarrassment to many Americans. No one has denied that people disappear in El Salvador, that death squads exist. And the more they [the American people] find out about it. the more embarrassed they are.” Merkt had a chance to defend her actions for the record when U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela heard her out before handing down his sentence. I find it incredibly hard to believe that what names me a felon is an act of helping people. . . . When our sister or brother anywhere hurts, we hurt.” she told the judge. Judge Vela himself expressed support for her sentiments, although not her practice. The judge told her and her supporters, who packed the courtroom and crowded the court hallways, that she was “a conscientious person” and that her “charity and love” affected the severity of the sentencing. Merkt was sentenced to 90 days imprisonment on all three counts for which she was found guilty, but when she promised not to violate any law, Judge Vela suspended the sentence and placed her on probation. Vela did, however, warn sanctuary supporters that he might deal more harshly with any future immigration law violators since people “know the law will be applied.” Ricardo Garcia. member of the Pan American University student branch of Border Association for Refugees from ties should be drastically increased against coyotes who smuggle aliens for profit but eliminated for humanitarianinclined individuals transporting refugees without financial interest. John Speer, another BARCA member, expressed concern that the Merkt conviction might give the wrong message to church people, leading them to believe that legal strictures exist against shelter One Big Sanctuary ON SUNDAY, August 19, Salvadoran refugees and their advocates plan to gather at a site near the Republican National Convention to plant 40,000 crosses and 200 Stars of David. Among the participants in this Texas Caravan/Walk for Peace in Central America will be supporters of the growing sanctuary movement. The purpose of the caravan is to make the plight of Salvadoran refugees more a campaign presence than, apparently, either party desires. The Salvadorans, with no votes to influence the determination of their status, hope to influence U.S. voters and bring to the political forefront questions of refugee status and repression in El Salvador. With the Texas Caravan/Walk for Peace in Central America, the issue moves outside the courtroom to the streets of San Benito, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Temple, Waco, to a Jewish camp in Bruceville. to Fort Worth, and finally Dallas. On August 11, ecumenical religious services will be held in San Benito and in Houston, from which Salvadoran refugees and their supporters will carry crosses to San Antonio, joining up with a caravan contingent there. In each town, the entourage will stay overnight, giving presentations. March organizers emphasize the march is not meant to be antiRepublican, but rather, a demonstration of concern over Reagan administration policy of deporting Salvadorans back to a war-ridden country whose human rights violations are known worldwide. Religious and political leaders and groups endorsing the march include U.S. Rep. Mickey Leland; state Rep. Walter Martinez; San Antonio city councilmembers Bernard Eureste and Joe Webb: Harris County Mexican American Democrats; Bill Means of the International Indian Treaty Council; ministers and religious groups involved in Central American refugee work; and legal associations, including the La Raza Legal Alliance. Four Catholic bishops, including Bishop Fitzpatrick, have endorsed the caravan-walk. Valley attorney Larry Norton said attempts were being made to document the number of Salvadorans who have died in South Texas from asphyxiation in closed vans, in automobile and train accidents, and from other causes. “What we’re trying to do in the Valley is to connect in some symbolic way the number of Salvadoran refugees who have died in the Valley.” The names of those individuals would then be inscribed on crosses. And the number of Salvadorans arriving in the Valley continues to grow. Central American Refugee Services director Rosemary Smith, a Catholic lay missionary who worked for 16 years in El Salvador until she received death threats, related the case of a 64-year-old woman who arrived days earlier. The woman lost all three of her sons;,, after one of them deserted from the Salvadoran army. Government forces killed that son, then hunted down his two brothers. Her son had deserted after his commanding officer had ordered him to shoot an entire family down, even as the family’s father pleaded on his knees for the soldier to spare their lives. March organizer Maureen LaMar thinks Texas has already become one big sanctuary for Salvadorans and the Valley, an undeclared sanctuary, as Salvadorans cross the Rio Grande without submitting to inspection at the border’s ports of entry, then move northward under the cover of night to the lights of San Antonio, Houston, and points beyond. Scott Lind 22 AUGUST 17, 1984
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