'Favor the Alien' : Mahony Urges Broad INS View of Amnesty

Times Staff Writer

The nation's new immigration law should be "interpreted and implemented as generously as possible" so that members of a large "shadow society" may gain legal status quickly and cheaply, Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony has told federal immigration officials.

In a letter to Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Alan C. Nelson on the agency's proposed regulations implementing the act, Mahony emphasized that they should reflect church principles, such as preservation of families.

"If one family member were to qualify for legalization," Mahony wrote, "other family members should also receive derivative eligibility under the law."

Not only that, Mahony contended in the letter released Wednesday, the definition in the regulations of a "family group" should be broadened to include the parents of both spouses.

The leader of the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese also suggested that the amnesty application fee for an individual should be no more than $50 and that the maximum fee for a family should be $100. The fees proposed by the INS--$185 per single adult and $420 for a family--have been attacked by immigrants' rights groups as being too steep for impoverished people.

The immigration reform act offers amnesty to aliens who have been in the United States illegally since Jan. 1, 1982, and to farm workers who were employed at least 90 days during the year that ended last May. The law also calls for fines and possible jail terms for employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.

INS spokesman Duke Austin noted that comments on the proposed regulations have been invited from all over the nation and said that the INS may soon issue interim regulations, which in effect will become final on May 5, when illegal aliens may begin applying for legal status.

With Roman Catholic organizations preparing to help the INS process hundreds of thousands of amnesty applications and other groups in the church serving as advocates for immigrants in disputes with the INS, there has been a split within the church over just how closely it should work with the federal agency in implementing the law that many view as threatening.

Mahony told Nelson that he was encouraged by the INS's "willingness to be more generous in granting work authorization to eligible aliens," by the apparent decision to accommodate longer periods of absence from the United States and by a move to "streamline the process and to simplify the requirements." However, he said, the church believes that in those cases where subjective decisions need to be made, they should "favor the alien."

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