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Amnesty Seekers Relieved to Find Test Easier Than Expected

Times Staff Writer

Blanca Quintero has lived nervously in this country for 15 years.

Afraid that she was “not smart enough” to become a legal resident, the Mexican native avoided the government for years and lived quietly and anonymously with her two children.

Quintero, who has worked as a housekeeper for five years for John Gavin, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said, “I was afraid to go out because I thought the police were going to get me and send me back to Mexico.”

But Wednesday, Quintero said she was “set free"--and it was much easier than she expected.

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She was one of 15 amnesty applicants to earn permanent residency by passing a 15-question exam, administered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service at its Wilshire Boulevard office for phase two of its amnesty program.

More than 800,000 immigrants applied for amnesty in the Los Angeles area under the first phase of the program from May, 1987, to May, 1988. In the second phase, these applicants must demonstrate a knowledge of English, civics and U.S. history in order to obtain permanent residency status.

INS officials said they expect 300,000 of the applicants to follow Quintero’s lead by taking the multiple-choice exam at one of the 16 INS offices throughout the area.

Others may choose to prove their English proficiency by taking INS-approved classes at one of 300 schools in the area and thus would not have to take the test. Applicants younger than 16, or 65 years and older, are exempt, officials said.

Harold Ezell, INS Western regional commissioner, said his staff is negotiating with religious and community groups in hopes that they will become licensed to administer the test.

“It is going to be tough to find enough space for everyone to take the test, so we are hoping to get Catholic charities, local schools and other groups involved to help out,” Ezell said.

Appointment Needed

To take the test, immigrants must fill out an appointment card, available at all INS offices, and the agency will notify applicants of the time and date of their exam through the mail. Applicants have 18 months from the time of earning their temporary residency card to complete the second phase of the program.

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The test, to be given on Thursday nights starting Jan. 19, will be administered by videotape to groups of immigrants. Applicants must sign a statement at the top of the test that says they have studied at least 40 hours of English and U.S. history, and then they have to answer nine of the 15 questions correctly to pass.

“If they fail the test the first time, they can take it as many times as they need to pass, free of charge,” Ezell said.

Most Pass It

But if the applicants who took the test Wednesday are any indication, passing is not going to be a problem. Fifteen of the 16 test takers passed--five with perfect scores.

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“It was so easy,” said Quintero, who has taken night classes for the last year. “They asked questions that you hear every day, like, ‘Who was the first President of the United States?’ and ‘Who can declare war in this country?’ ”

Maria Lafarga and her husband, who both got perfect scores on the test, agreed.

“I can’t believe how easy it was. I was so nervous when I came in here,” said Lafarga, who hopes to work as a supermarket cashier. “I feel like a new person.”

WHERE TO TAKE TEST These are the centers in Los Angeles County where amnesty applicants can take the written exam. Applicants need an appointment before taking the test.

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300 N. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles

1671 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

1241 S. Soto St., Los Angeles

16921 Parthenia St., Sepulveda

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11307 Vanowen St., North Hollywood

6022 Santa Fe Ave., Huntington Park

9660 Flair Drive, El Monte

960 E. Holt Blvd., Pomona

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555 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena

9858 Artesia Blvd., Bellflower

For more information call the immigration service hot line: 1-800-448-4994.


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