Amnesty Applicant Is a Law-Abiding Alien Once More

Times Staff Writer

She lives quietly in Tustin, where she tends her flower garden and volunteers to work for hospitals and handicapped children--anything that comes along, she says with an infectious giggle, “but housework.”

With her white hair, gold-rimmed glasses and English accent, Barbara Brown, 88, is the picture of a law-abiding citizen.

That’s why no one was more surprised than Brown herself when she discovered the truth: For the last seven years, she has been living in this country illegally.

Brown concedes that she was more than a bit nervous when she learned of her illegal status in August.


“I thought somebody would take me by the back of the neck,” she said with a grin Thursday.

Actually, Brown has a lot to smile about.

Thanks to the federal amnesty program, she has once again joined the ranks of the law-abiding.

According to Brown’s attorney, Kathryn Elizabeth Terry, Brown had always assumed that she was in the country legally.

In 1979, Brown sold everything she owned in Baldcock, a small village in northern England, and moved to the United States to live with her son in Tustin.

Brown’s visitor’s visa expired in 1980. But over the years, Brown’s son, Bill, assured her “that everything’s all right,” according to Terry. “Because she came here on a legal visa, they just assumed she was legal all this time.”

Bill Brown, a successful Tustin businessman, died in March.

It wasn’t until a niece visiting from England began questioning her about her status that Barbara Brown discovered she was an illegal alien.


“Well, I didn’t know what to think,” Brown says, but “I took immediate action to do something about it.”

Brown has been living in this country continuously since before Jan. 1, 1982, thus qualifying her as an amnesty recipient.

At 9 a.m. on Thursday, Brown, accompanied by Terry, arrived at the Immigration and Naturalization Service legalization office in Santa Ana to begin amnesty proceedings.

Wearing a white knit sweater over a rose-colored dress, a pearl necklace and earrings, Brown said she had been awake since 4 a.m. She was simply too excited to sleep.


Brown underwent a 15-minute interview with an INS official. Among other things, she had to prove that she could support herself (she receives a pension), that she has never been deported and has never been arrested or convicted of crimes of moral turpitude.

George Newland, chief legalization officer for the Santa Ana office, said it’s not uncommon for a visitor’s visa to expire.

Usually, however, “it’s because they want it to,” he said. If caught, they face deportation.

Since the amnesty program began in May, the western region has processed 400,000 amnesty applications, Newland said. The region encompasses California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam.


Newland said about 95% of the amnesty applicants at the Santa Ana office are Latino, “and it’s unusual for us to get an older lady like this from a different country.”

In fact, it was so unusual that Harold Ezell, INS western regional commissioner, drove down from San Pedro to personally hand Brown an employment authorization card and to congratulate her for being able to remain in the United States.

After Ezell left, Brown’s own, permanent card was readied and ceremoniously presented to her again by INS official Bill King. The card allows her to live legally for up to six months in the United States.

“I think what makes this interesting is everybody in Southern California thinks the illegal alien is the Spanish guy that crosses the border,” Terry says. “In fact, there are quite a lot of people--Europeans, Filipinos and South Americans--who come and overstay whether by accident or by design.”


Terry, whose immigration cases take her to the INS office nearly every day, said that although immigration officials are courteous to everyone, she has never seen a fuss like the one they made over Brown.

“Part of the reason is today (Thursday) is the 200th birthday of the Constitution, and she’s from England,” she said. “Our founding fathers were from England, and to have one of the oldest, if not the oldest, applicants for amnesty apply on this day is just a nice little twist.”

In six months, Terry said, Brown will receive a temporary residence card, which is good for 18 months. After that, she will apply for permanent residence. “She’ll then be permitted to stay here forever.”

Brown, who lives alone in her late son’s house, does not plan to apply for U.S. citizenship.


“I guess I’m too old,” she said. She also said she would never return to England.

There’s only one reason she decided to stay in the United States. “Oh, the weather,” she said with a giggle and a wave of her hand. “Oh, it’s marvelous compared to England. The weather suits me, that’s all. That’s why I stayed.”