Immigration Reforms Second Phase Began Monday
Undated (AP) _ The government amnesty program for illegal immigrants entered its second phase Monday, but turnout was light on the first day those who took advantage of the program could begin applying for permanent residency.
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials expect about 1.5 million of the 1.8 million non-agricultural amnesty applicants to apply for permanent residency. Most are from Latin America.
Permanent resident status brings a person a so-called green card - they’ve actually been white since 1976 - which allows them to leave and enter the country at will and to eventually apply for citizenship.
Amnesty recipients who apply for permanent residency must either take a 60- hour English and civics class from an INS-certified school or pass an oral and written test similar to the citizenship test given to permanent residents who enter this country legally.
All have to pay an application fee of $80 a person or a maximum $240 for a family. They have a year to apply.
″Today marks the next step on the road to American citizenship for hundreds of thousands of legalized aliens and it is with great pleasure I accept your applications for permanent residency,″ said Harold Ezell, western regional commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Los Angeles.
Ezell accepted several applications at a morning news conference, where he handed out buttons labeled ″1994, your first vote,″ a reminder of the first general election in which amnesty applicants can vote.
While many illegal immigrants stood in long lines to apply for amnesty, there weren’t very many lines Monday.
Only two people showed up to take the test Monday in Florida, and both had no problem, said Wayne Joye, assistant district director for legalization. Some 47,000 people applied for amnesty in Floirda.
Ray Dudley, an INS spokesman in Florida, said many people will wait until they’ve had more time to study for the test.
Charlie Troy, spokesman for the New York District of the INS, said scores of people mistakenly crowded the legalization office in Manhattan, but weren’t eligible to apply for their green cards.
Very few people are eligible, he said, because they must have had their temporary resident card for 18 months. Phase one of the amnesty program started May 5, 1987 - just over 18 months ago.
Nonetheless, he said, ″at any one time 100 or so who were in here erroneously thought they had to apply today or tomorrow. There’s plenty of time to do this in an orderly manner.″
″They have a year from the day they become eligible, most will be sure they can pass the English test and history test before they come in,″ he said.
Few applicants were expected for a while in Boston, said Timothy Whelan, deputy director of the Boston INS office, which is responsible for Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
There were no applicants in New Orleans.
″We had one appointment set up for today, but they didn’t have all their medicals. So they put it off,″ said Charlie Williams, head of the legalization section of the INS’ New Orleans office.
″I look for them to dribble in over the one-year period, as the person gets his fee together,″ Williams said.
Williams also said he didn’t expect English classes to be a problem. ″Ninety percent of our applicants already spoke English. The only problem would be with the civics test - how many stripes are on the flag, that sort of thing,″ he said.
In Atlanta, Praxedis Gomez-Casteneda, a 26-year-old Dalton, Ga., minister, became the first person in Georgia to become a permanent U.S. resident under the amnesty plan, INS officials said.
Gomez, who came to this country from Mexico, also had been the first person to apply for the program back on May 5, 1987. He returned to INS offices Monday, the first day he was eligible after his 18-month waiting period was up.
He didn’t have to fight a crowd at the INS district office in Atlanta, said service spokesman Tom Thomas. Only one other person came in for his green card on the first day.
In Texas, while only three amnesty applicants showed up Monday, immigration officials expect thousands more to do the same in the coming months.
The Houston INS office handled more applications - some 125,000 - than any other single immigration office in the United States when the program began.
The three who showed up were among the 13 who applied for amnesty on the first day.
In New Mexico, the 12,414 people who applied under the first stage were forced to wait until at least Tuesday to begin the second stage because the INS office was closed.
The Albuquerque INS office is open Tuesday through Saturday, said Doug Brown, officer in charge. But he said no one has contacted the office about starting the second phase of applying for permanent residency.
″It’s been our experience that people tend to wait until the last second,″ he said. ″But we do expect the great majority to complete their processing.″
In Arizona, the 18-month wait meant only the 199 applicants who applied for amnesty in Phoenix in May 1987 were eligible to begin the second phase Monday. The Phoenix office scheduled just two interviews Monday and expected to accomodate the rest throughout the month, said deputy director Richard Perry. In all, some 28,000 people in Arizona are eligible for the second phase, he said.
Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, people who had lived illegally in the United States since before Jan. 1, 1982, were allowed to apply for amnesty from deportation and were given temporary permission to work.
The yearlong program ended for most immigrants last May 4, though special agricultural workers have until Nov. 30 to apply.
If they don’t apply during the next year, they will lose their temporary status and be subject to deportation.
Those who waited until the last day to apply for amnesty have until Nov. 4, 1990, to apply for permanent residency.
People who have completed 40 hours of an approved 60-hour course don’t have to take the test for permanent residency. Neither do agricultural workers who applied for amnesty under a separate program, children under 16, adults 65 and older or people who are physically unable to take the course or test.
Legal immigrants don’t have to know English and civics to obtain permanent residency, but they do to earn citizenship.
Aliens can apply for citizenship after five years of permanent residency. Those who are married to U.S. citizens can apply for citizenship after three years of permanent residency.