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Program to Woo Alien Amnesty Applicants

Times Staff Writer

A publicity campaign to encourage thousands of illegal immigrants--erroneously left out of the 1-year amnesty program that ended in May--to apply under court-ordered extensions of the program was launched Tuesday by immigrant-rights groups across California.

The $50,000 state-funded campaign hopes to attract immigrants who were denied amnesty or discouraged from even applying because of overly restrictive eligibility requirements that have since been successfully challenged in the courts.

Immigrants’ advocates maintain that potentially tens of thousands of immigrants may benefit under the liberalized requirements. But they charge that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has done little to get the word out to potential applicants.

“We’re attempting to do the publicity that INS has never done and never intends to do,” said Helen Sklar, a lawyer with the National Center for Immigrants Rights, one of the campaign’s coordinators. She said the INS has also resisted several legal efforts to extend the amnesty deadline for groups of immigrants who were excluded from the process because of “incorrect INS interpretations” of the law.

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A 2-week media campaign will feature multilingual radio and newspaper ads in ethnic communities. The message will be aimed at various categories of immigrants who were denied amnesty or never applied in the belief that they would not be eligible under INS requirements. According to Sklar and other immigrant-rights lawyers, the immigrant categories include:

- Those who left the country, even briefly, during the 1-year amnesty application period, without INS permission. This INS rule was declared invalid by a federal judge in Sacramento in April--only a month before the end of the amnesty program. The judge ordered an extension of the amnesty application period for this category of aliens, but the ruling was appealed. More recently, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered that such aliens be granted work permits, pending the outcome of the INS appeal. Attorneys in the case have estimated that as many as 100,000 people may be eligible under this ruling.

- Those who left the country after the Jan. 1, 1982, amnesty eligibility deadline and re-entered with legal visas. The INS initially held that such legal re-entries broke the law’s requirement for continuous illegal residency. Although the INS rescinded its policy midway through the application period, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered an extension of the application period for this category last August. He said those who had not heard of the change should be given additional time to apply. INS has also appealed this decision. Attorneys in the case have said that this extension could affect another 100,000 immigrants.

- Those who received cash government assistance, such as Aid to Families With Dependent Children and general relief. Although the INS issued internal directives changing the policy to take into account applicants’ ability to support themselves in the future, the agency did not publicize the change. A federal judge in Sacramento issued a preliminary decision that the initial INS rule was invalid. A final ruling is pending, but one of the lawyers in the case said there is “a very strong possibility” that the judge will grant an extension to this group of potential applicants as well.

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