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INS Sued on Handling of Political Asylum Requests

Times Staff Writer

The Immigration and Naturalization Service was sued Monday by Latino applicants for political asylum who claim their interviews are too brief, too public and conducted only in English, which they cannot understand.

Vibiana Andrade, attorney for the National Center for Immigrants’ Rights, estimated that up to 30,000 people may benefit from the class-action civil suit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Reasons for Amended Suit

Linton Joaquin, attorney for the Central American Refugee Center, said a lawsuit was originally filed last August to force local immigration officials to issue work permits to applicants for political asylum. As a result, he said, the officials issued up to 8,000 work authorizations.

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The amended suit filed Monday was called for, Joaquin said, because issuance of the work permits has subsequently dwindled and because the immigration service’s recent effort to expedite political asylum applications has resulted in short shrift for applicants.

Ernest Gustafson, director of the Los Angeles district of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, could not be reached for comment on the suit, and other agency officials declined to be interviewed.

At a news conference at the Central American Refugee Center, Joaquin said applicants “get very brief interviews that don’t go into the nature of their case. . . . They get no privacy. Their fear of persecution is not taken into account. And interviews are in English. Many don’t speak English, and no interpreter is allowed.”

Joaquin said work authorizations, or extensions of those already obtained, are being denied just as they were before the original suit was filed last summer.

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One of the named plaintiffs--Guillermo Oswaldo Rivas Hernandez--said that although he is from El Salvador and fears persecution, the immigration interviewer refused him privacy and questioned him in the presence of a long line of applicants, spent only 10 minutes with him and had no interest in why he had fled El Salvador.

Denied a work permit, Rivas Hernandez is homeless and dependent on charity while his application for political asylum is pending.

Work Permit Denied

Attorneys said another of the named plaintiffs, Luis Antonio Urquilla Diaz, was a union organizer in his native El Salvador with 60 pages of documentation about his activities and his persecution by political opponents. But the immigration interviewer, the lawyers said, denied Urquilla Diaz’s request for a private interview and the center’s attempt to provide an interpreter. Urquilla Diaz, whose application for asylum is pending, was also denied a work permit.

The federal suit seeks injunctions requiring immigration authorities to grant or extend valid work permit applications and to provide meaningful hearings on requests for asylum, including proper length, language and privacy.


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