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Outlook Unsettled, Looking Up for Immigrants in Limbo on Amnesty

Times Staff Writer

Over the last several months, as employer sanctions have made it increasingly difficult for illegal immigrants to find work, Patrick Gaxotte sold his car, depleted his savings and went into debt.

“I’ve hit rock bottom,” said Gaxotte, 41, a native of France and a one-time free-lance photographer turned salesman. Most recently an office clerk in Los Angeles, he said he has been unable to find work since May.

This week, however, Gaxotte’s luck took a turn for the better. He became the first of thousands of aliens across the country expected to apply late for amnesty and to receive a work permit under a recent Los Angeles court ruling.

Gaxotte came to the United States early enough to have qualified for the one-year amnesty program ended in May that required residency in the United States since at least January, 1982. But like thousands of others, Gaxotte made the unwitting mistake of traveling outside the country after 1982 and re-entering with a valid visa. Immigration authorities ruled initially that re-entering the country with legal documentation--as most Asians, European and others arriving in the country on airlines invariably do--broke amnesty’s requirement for continuous illegal residency.

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‘I Can Get a Job’

“Now I can get a job,” said a smiling Gaxotte, clutching the newly issued work permit Thursday at the government’s Wilshire Boulevard legalization office. “This has come just in time.”

The Aug. 12 ruling by U.S. District Judge William D. Keller originally extended to Nov. 30 the amnesty application period for aliens who re-entered the country with visas. Keller ruled that although the INS rescinded its policy against such aliens midway through the one-year amnesty program, those who missed out on the full opportunity to apply should get another chance.

The government, however, asked for a stay of the extension order, pending an appeal of the judge’s decision. The government contends the courts do not have the authority to extend a deadline established by Congress.

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Under an agreement reached earlier this week, aliens will receive stays of deportation and work permits after filing short-form amnesty applications at INS legalization offices. But the applications won’t actually be processed by INS pending the outcome of the appeal.

“This will give people at least a year to apply,” said Peter Schey of the National Center for Immigrants Rights Inc., the lead attorney in the suit, who expects that it will take that long for the appeal to wind its way through the judicial process. “This is not to say people should wait until the last minute.”

Urged to Apply Now

Schey urged those who qualify to apply immediately. He said that even if the government wins the appeal, there is no risk to applicants because under terms of the agreement the applications will be destroyed.

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According to Schey, the ruling could add as many as 100,000 new applicants to the 1.8 million who filed before the end of the one-year amnesty application period in May. But INS officials estimate the figure to be much lower, noting that after the agency changed its policy toward aliens who re-entered the country with visas, only about 5,000 of them applied during the remaining seven months of the amnesty program.

Schey contends that the number who file will largely depend on how well the most recent court ruling is publicized. To do the outreach work, Schey said he hopes to raise emergency funding from private foundations.


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