Testimony Angers Rights Groups : Aliens Not Complaining Over Fees, INS Chief Says

Times Staff Writer

The nation's top immigration official, defending a proposal to charge $185 per person to apply for legal resident status under the landmark immigration law, said Tuesday that his agency has received "almost no complaints from illegal aliens" about the fee.

Alan C. Nelson, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, asserted that protests have come instead from immigrant rights groups, some of which will be charging fees themselves to help process applications from people seeking legal status under the law.

Nelson's comments were made during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. After the hearing, he added that many illegal immigrants have attended meetings with INS officials and could have protested the fees without fear of deportation because they could have remained anonymous. "I think you'd hear" any dissatisfaction if it existed, he said.

Calls Complaints 'Unbecoming'

At the hearing, Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), a chief architect of the immigration legislation, joined Nelson in criticizing the immigrant activist groups, calling their complaints about fees "unbecoming."

The comments angered officials with immigrant rights groups, further straining their relations with the INS. Some agencies that plan to process legalization applications already have threatened to do so on their own because INS rules are too restrictive and prohibit them from charging enough to cover their own costs.

Under INS rules, these agencies generally can charge no more than $100--a fee in addition to the $185 INS application charge--for processing each immigrant's application.

"We have really given it a serious look," said Gilbert Paul Carrasco, associate director of immigration affairs for the U.S. Catholic Conference. "Some of our people have repeatedly suggested that we just walk away from INS." He called Nelson's remarks "ludicrous," adding that the INS chief had failed to mention that some agencies are willing to waive their fees.

View Fees as Hurdle

Linda Wong of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said that many illegal immigrants had telephoned her organization to complain about the fees because they view them as "one more hurdle they have to overcome in the legal process."

As part of the law, which offers legal status to people who have lived illegally in the United States since before 1982, the Justice Department is supposed to ensure that employers do not discriminate against U.S. citizens and legal residents who look and sound foreign. Proposing anti-discrimination regulations last week, the Justice Department said that the government would require proof that employers "knowingly and intentionally" discriminated.

Kennedy Criticizes Standard

But rights activists have argued that intent is too difficult to prove and is thus an unfair gauge of discrimination. At the hearing, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee chairman, called the requirement an "ill-advised attempt to constrict" the anti-discrimination provision.

"I am confident that the final regulations will delete the intent standard and preserve the will of Congress," Kennedy said.

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