Representatives of several Los Angeles immigrant groups cautioned illegal immigrants Wednesday about rushing to apply for temporary U.S. residency under the Immigration and Naturalization Service's new "family fairness" policy.
Under pressure from Latino groups and Congress, INS Commissioner Gene McNary on Feb. 2 announced a policy allowing close relatives of legalized aliens to remain in the United States while they wait to qualify for permanent status.
While they voiced general support for the gesture, immigrants' representatives contended at a Los Angeles press conference that the policy, affecting thousands of immediate family members of amnesty applicants, has serious flaws that could hurt some applicants.
For example, they said, the confidentiality aspect of the amnesty law, which was required by Congress as a condition of its passage, is not part of the policy, which took effect Wednesday. The lack of confidentiality could lead some applicants to deportation, they said.
"This is not a new amnesty program," said Teresa Sanchez-Gordon of the Labor Immigrant Assistance Project. She was among several advocates who urged aliens to wait for clarifications from the immigration service before applying for temporary residency under the liberalized policy.
Nonetheless, the activists said, the benefits of the policy--keeping an amnesty applicant's immediate family together, the authorization for work for adults and the access to Social Security benefits for minors--should outweigh its negative aspects for most applicants.
"And that's the bottom line," said Boyle Heights lawyer Antonio Rodriguez.
The policy provides for a renewable, one-year authorization to live in this country for spouses and children under 18 years of age who can prove that they have lived in the United States since before Nov. 6, 1986--the date the landmark amnesty legislation became law.
INS officials were criticized by Latino activists and civil-rights advocates because the treatment accorded immediate family members of amnesty applicants varies from region to region, depending on how local INS officials interpret the law.
Although there are no firm figures, the immigration service estimates as many as 1 million aliens could be affected by the new policy. About 3 million aliens applied for amnesty nationwide, with about half of them living in California.
Officials painted McNary's gesture as a "double-edged sword" that could as easily hurt as help potential applicants.
J Craig Fong, director of the Downtown Legalization Project, said aliens who received public assistance, minor children who were outside the United States at the time the parent applied for amnesty and those illegals with physical or mental disabilities are ineligible to apply.
"This also doesn't pertain to late amnesty" registrants whose cases are being contested by the INS in the courts, Fong said.
In Washington, INS spokesman Duke Austin acknowledged that there was no guarantee of confidentiality under the policy, noting that all INS programs--with the exception of amnesty--do not guarantee confidentiality.
He added, however, that rejected applicants can always appeal their cases under established INS procedures.