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INS Barred From Deporting Thousands of Illegal Immigrants

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal judge in Sacramento has blocked the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from deporting or arresting tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who have been fighting a decade-long court battle arguing that they were wrongly denied amnesty.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton ruled late Friday after a hearing via telephone that “serious legal questions are tendered and that the balance of hardship favors plaintiffs.”

Consequently, the judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the INS from deporting or detaining those affected, who lawyers for the immigrants say number about 200,000 nationwide and are concentrated in Southern California.

All have been living in the United States since at least 1982 and contend that they were wrongly denied amnesty or discouraged from applying based on brief absences from the United States. They mounted several nationwide class-action challenges and are referred to collectively as the “late amnesty” population because most filed after the amnesty program expired.

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The amnesty initiative, created by Congress in 1986, resulted in legal residency for almost 3 million immigrants, half of them California residents. Most qualifying had to show they had lived “continuously” in the United States since 1982.

The judge’s order will remain in effect through June 19, ruled Karlton, who scheduled a hearing that day on the challenge.

Representatives of the affected immigrants extolled the judge’s emergency ruling, which provided a glimmer of hope for what seemed to many a lost cause.

A little-noticed provision of the sweeping 1996 immigration law effectively stripped the federal courts’ jurisdiction to hear most claims. The new law twice prompted the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to order dismissal of the case, most recently in February.

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In recent months, immigrant advocates say, the INS began to detain, deport and revoke the work permits of tens of thousands of affected immigrants who have been living here for more than a decade. Many have established professions, purchased homes and have U.S.-born children and grandchildren.

“INS’ policy is mean-spirited and vindictive and, if successful, would mean that INS created more undocumented people on the streets of the United States than all the alien smugglers put together serving time in U.S. jails,” said Peter A. Schey, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

INS officials expressed confidence that the challenge would ultimately be dismissed. Immigration authorities have argued for years that many of the applicants were attempting to gain legal residency by falsely contending that they were wrongly denied amnesty.

“This buys them some more time, but we believe in this instance, the INS will prevail,” said Virginia Kice, an INS spokeswoman.

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