INS Plan to Plug Amnesty With Tortillas Falls Flat

Times Staff Writer

The Immigration and Naturalization Service, it seems, can do no right.

Widely criticized for inadequately publicizing the one-year amnesty program for illegal immigrants, the agency has now come under criticism over a plan in West Texas to publicize the program through a novel medium--tortillas.

"Our intent was to reach Mexican immigrants who might benefit from the amnesty program, as well as U.S. citizens who could encourage (undocumented) friends they know to come forward," said Jane Friday, a spokeswoman for the Dallas INS district, where 80,000 flyers have been printed for distribution inside tortilla packages.

"It never entered our minds that it could be a problem," she said.

When news of the tortilla-grams surfaced this week, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund fielded a number of calls from irate citizens, said Francisco Garcia, an attorney with the civil rights organization.

Callers said they found the tactic "racist" and "offensive."

Garcia merely found it "silly. . . . One only wonders what approach they're going to take for other ethnic groups. Are amnesty messages in fortune cookies next?"

In any case, Garcia said, the general nature of the tortilla flyers' message, which urges immigrants to take advantage of the amnesty program before it comes to an end in May, is simplistic and something that the vast majority of immigrants already know.

What is needed to attract more applicants, according to Garcia and other immigrants' advocates, is further clarification as well as liberalization of amnesty requirements, such as the one that leaves the fate of ineligible spouses of amnesty recipients in the hands of individual INS district directors.

The publicity tactic elicited a chuckle from Los Angeles INS District Director Ernest Gustafson, who called it "a different idea" and added that he would have to give it "a lot of thought" before implementing such a plan.

"I don't see a need for it here," he said, noting that nearly half the applications in the United States have been filed in the Los Angeles district.

"All the publicity, the media and community efforts here have paid off," he said, lauding recent efforts by various Latino organizations and public officials to promote the program. "I don't believe there is one undocumented person out there who is uninformed about the program. He may be reluctant, but he is not uninformed."

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