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Jaco now regrets deeply that he was too ignorant to have applied for asylum six years ago, when he arrived in Los Angeles.

He knows that those who apply for asylum in the United States often endure years of hearings and appeals, and that asylum is difficult to obtain.

But Santos Jaco says he cannot return to El Salvador and expect to live. Just look at the television news, he says, you can see how bad things are in El Salvador. Kidnapings. Murders. Bombings. Who's to say the violence isn't direct retribution for long-standing wartime grudges? Some days, his mind starts racing and he knows it's ridiculous, but he can't stop the racing.

Like when he saw the televised testimony of Rosa Lopez, the self-contradictory, often-confused Salvadoran housekeeper in the O.J. Simpson trial. This must be propaganda against Salvadorans, he thought to himself; this is a government plot to make us look bad. They don't want us here anymore.

When the stress of not knowing what's going to happen next gets to Jaco, he takes time off. Goes to the library or maybe climbs Squaw Peak. On real vacations, he tries to see America. He's visited Salt Lake City. Las Vegas. Portland, Maine.

Not a bad country, he says. He's saving up for a lawyer, because he plans to apply for asylum. He figures the INS will see it his way, agree that he has a well-founded fear of persecution if he returns to El Salvador.

The civil war might be over for now, he says, but his enemies, including his father, remain in El Salvador.

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Terry Greene