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98-Year-Old Amnesty Applicant One Step Closer to Citizenship

February 9, 1988

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) _ There was a cake, an applauding crowd and even a Valentine’s Day greeting, but what great-grandmother Clara Escobedo de Martinez appreciated most Tuesday was the little green card declaring her a permanent U.S. resident.

Mrs. Escobedo, at 98 the oldest person to apply for amnesty under the new federal immigration program, had confounded the government’s computers because they didn’t know how to process an alien born in 1889.

But in a ceremony that drew about 50 people - including relatives and the regional Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner - she received her permanent resident card and an application for citizenship more than 60 years after she first came to the United States.

″I feel very content and thank all of the people who have gone to this trouble without me deserving it, and I hope the Lord multiplies all of your blessings in all aspects,″ Mrs. Escobedo said in Spanish.

She beamed demurely at a cake proclaiming ″Congratulations, Clara″ in Spanish and the applauding crowd, and smiled happily when INS Regional Commissioner Stephen Martin gave her a Valentine’s Day card.

″I think this is great. We’ve been waiting for this,″ said great- granddaugh ter Rakel Zarate, who attended the ceremony with her mother.

Mrs. Escobedo has said she also plans to apply for citizenship, and has agreed to appear in a series of television commercials produced by the INS to promote its legalization program.

A study issued Tuesday in Washington urged the INS to conduct a major marketing effort to attract applicants because the amnesty program is in danger of falling below its original estimate of covering 2 million people.

Martin said Mrs. Escobedo is eligible for citizenship because of the years she lived legally in the United States before losing her legal status and later returning as an illegal alien.

″Actually what we’re doing now is putting things in proper order. We’re restoring to her her permanent residency,″ Martin said.

The widow, who says her husband was killed by Pancho Villa’s men in 1914 during the Mexican revolution, first came to the United States from Mexico in 1927.

She lived here legally for 35 years.

Then, in 1962, as she was returning from a visit to Mexico, immigration officials at the international bridge in the border city of Brownsville canceled her legal status.

They sent her back to Mexico, but she returned to stay as an illegal alien in 1979, and lives in Brownsville with her daughter and granddaughter.

Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, a one-year amnesty period began May 5 for undocumented aliens able to show they had lived in the United States since Jan. 1, 1982.

Mrs. Escobedo applied for amnesty in July and received her temporary resident card in November. Normally, she would have had to wait 18 months to apply for permanent residency. But immigration officials who reviewed her immigration file spanning more than half a century determined that they could speed her case up by restoring the permanent resident status she lost in 1962.

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