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Facing imminent deportation, Erika Martin Hooker thought her nine years of life in the United States were going to be for naught. But the Nicaraguan nurse, a longtime aide at a dialysis clinic, was saved from expulsion and released from an Immigration and Naturalization Service lockup Friday--the first visible impact in Southern California of the Nicaraguan amnesty law signed two days earlier by President Clinton.
Exultant friends, co-workers and compatriots, many waving blue and white Nicaraguan flags, greeted her on the street outside, as cameras from the Spanish-language media recorded her impressions. She became the first Nicaraguan in Southern California known to be freed from INS custody since passage of the amnesty law, which is eventually expected to provide permanent legal residence to more than , eligible Nicaraguans nationwide. The largest number are concentrated in Florida, but up to 20, may be eligible in California.
It covers immigrants who, like Hooker, entered illegally. At least one other Nicaraguan in Florida has also been released from detention by the INS since Clinton signed the bill into law. A native of the Caribbean coastal town of Puerto Cabezas, Hooker said she arrived here in , and, like many Central Americans, sought political asylum.
She said her family, including an aunt in San Diego, was against the Sandinista government. Her asylum application and subsequent appeals allowed Hooker to work legally in the United States. She found a job as a patient care technician at a dialysis center in Irvine, using her experience as a nurse in Nicaragua. Friends said she is beloved by the chronically ill population she served. Hooker said she believed that her asylum case was still under appeal when INS agents arrived at her Westminster home on Sept.
They informed Hooker that her final appeal had been denied, she said. The agency routinely declines to comment publicly on individual cases. Until Friday, Hooker remained one step away from being put on a plane back home.