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INS Office in Oxnard to Close : Amnesty: Foes of the shutdown say it will force immigrants to spend time and money traveling to Los Angeles.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite last-minute pleas from a local congressman and the Mexican consulate, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service announced Friday that it will close its Oxnard office April 19 because funds for the federal government’s alien legalization program have run out.

The decision will force thousands of immigrants in Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties to go through the legalization process in Los Angeles.

Opponents of the office closure said the immigrants’ daylong trips to Los Angeles to get their paperwork done will mean travel expenses and lost wages for people already on shoestring budgets.

But INS officials said that they have no choice. “The amnesty program is a self-funded program driven by fees,” said Dona Coultis, legalization program director of the INS Western Region.

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“It was designed to be a short-term program, and it is coming to an end. The Oxnard office will close its doors to the public on April 19 and shut down permanently two weeks later.”

Under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, about 3 million illegal aliens--1.7 million in the Western Region composed of California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam--have applied for legal residency. About 700,000 of the applicants in the Western Region are agricultural workers.

Coultis said the INS has been gradually eliminating legalization offices as immigrants complete the two- to three-year process of becoming permanent residents. Most non-agricultural workers have completed the legalization process, but applications from about 250,000 agricultural workers in the region are still pending, Coultis said.

The amnesty program costs each applicant $185. Coultis said the Western Region’s budget for the legalization program was not available.

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In the tri-county area served by the Oxnard office, about 42,000 applications have been processed, including 26,000 from agricultural workers, said Armando Garcia, legalization program director at El Concilio, an Oxnard-based Latino Rights organization.

The amnesty filing period ended in 1988, but several lawsuits aimed at reopening it are pending.

All legalization offices in the Western Region except those in Los Angeles and Westminster will be closed by the end of the fiscal year in September, Coultis said.

The Oxnard office, staffed by five employees, remains busy.

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“We see between 1,000 and 1,500 people every day,” said Josefina Hazuka, acting chief of the Oxnard office. In addition to the amnesty program participants, Hazuka said, hundreds of new residents use the office to apply for resident status for immediate family members also eligible under immigration law.

The official announcement of the office closure came on the heels of two last-minute appeals to keep it open.

On Monday, Congressmen Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) and Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey) sent a letter to the INS office in Washington, urging INS Commissioner Gene McNary to reconsider his decision.

“The additional travel time incurred by these individuals will be compounded by the fact that the L.A. office is prone to long lines and backlogs. I have been told that these lines often form before sunrise, just to get into the building,” Lagomarsino said. “We’re talking about taking as much as two days of valuable workdays for these people.”

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Zolia Arroyo de Rodriguez, head of the Mexican consulate in Oxnard, said she sent a letter Friday to INS officials in Los Angeles asking that the INS office in her city remain open.


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