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Rights groups pursue challenge to part of new immigration law

April 1, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Immigration rights groups are pursuing a challenge to a key part of the new immigration law after losing a bid to stop the measure from taking effect today.

The groups won a short-lived victory Monday when a federal judge ordered the law not to take effect. Hours later, an appeals court blocked the judge’s decision and let the law take effect.

Government lawyers argued that a delay would cause confusion, possibly jeopardizing thousands of deportation cases.

Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Brian Jordan disclosed the appeals court action early today after an emergency hearing Monday night.

At issue is a piece of last year’s massive immigration law that expedites the deportation of travelers carrying fraudulent or invalid documents. Immigrant groups filed suit against the new deportation provision, saying the government had not published regulations implementing the provision 30 days before it was to take effect, as administrative law requires.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan agreed and ordered the regulations suspended until Saturday, 30 days after they were published. He said the law made ``significant, complex changes,″ and there was ``no doubt″ in his mind that Congress intended for the public to have the full 30 days.

The government immediately appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit and Sullivan’s stay was lifted.

But in an unusual move, the three appellate judges said, ``We exhort the attorney general not to apply the challenged regulations where the arguable failure to provide the full 30 days’ notice required by the act may have prejudiced any person covered under the act.″

A coalition of immigrant groups was due in court today to argue in a second lawsuit that the INS, in the interest of moving cases more quickly, was trampling on the rights of would-be immigrants.

The groups argued that the intent of Congress had been that the INS tell people entering the country that they may apply for asylum.

The INS regulations do not direct immigration officers to inform people of their rights unless they ask, said Sara Campos, staff attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which filed the suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

``How do you know who may be eligible unless you tell them?″ she said.

But an INS attorney said Monday night that people will be informed of their rights under the new regulations. ``We fully believe we’re consistent with the law,″ INS General Counsel David Martin said.

A federal judge was considering this point at today’s hearing.

In the meantime, the law took effect at 12:01 a.m. today.

In court Monday, government attorneys argued that delaying the regulations would be a disaster. ``It’s going to be sheer chaos,″ Justice Department attorney Linda Wendtland told the court. The INS was expected to process more than 5 million people entering the country between today and Saturday.

Wendtland said computers were programmed to accept only new forms beginning today and 24,000 immigration agents have been trained to use the new regulations and would not know what to do without them.

``It would leave those agents entirely at a loss for how to proceed,″ she said.

The old law gave people trying to enter the country much longer to argue their case, providing them time to consult with friends and lawyers _ or, critics charged, simply disappear.

Under the new law, the rights of federal courts to review deportation and exclusion decisions would be sharply reduced. And the provisions institute three- and 10-year bars to re-entry for certain people found in the United States without authorization.

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