SACRAMENTO — About 400,000 people, half of them in California, could get immigration amnesty they were previously denied under a bill awaiting President Clinton’s signature.
The bill is an attempt to end a long legal battle.
The bill “resolves most of the ultimate issues, but the courts still have to protect class members from deportation and joblessness pending the start-up of the (late-amnesty) application process,” said Carlos Holgein, an attorney with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.
The Los Angeles-based group has represented the immigrants through what one federal appellate judge termed
“a long and unhappy history” of
The new legislation, passed as part of a budget package last week, follows the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which permitted illegal immigrants who’d been in the United States continuously since at least Jan. 1, 1982, to seek amnesty.
Nearly 2.7 million immigrants obtained amnesty under that law. Many others, though, were denied, including those who’d traveled briefly outside the United States.
“The INS interpreted the law excessively strictly,” said Cecilia Munoz, of the National Council of La Raza. “They were telling people they were ineligible when they weren’t.”
Lawsuits challenged the denials. Federal courts ordered the INS to grant work authorizations to those who were part of the class-action suits. This permitted the immigrants to work legally while waiting for final court decisions. It also prompted an unhappy Congress in 1996 to essentially strip federal courts of their jurisdiction.
Now, Congress has given members of the class-action suits another shot at their amnesty applications. Immigrants must demonstrate they entered the United States before 1982. The American Immigration Lawyers Association estimates that 150,000 plaintiffs might be able to provide the necessary proof.
“We may take a lenient attitude,” Don Riding, officer in charge of the Fresno-based Immigration and Naturalization Service office, said Monday, “but we’re still going to ask that they prove that they were here before 1982.”
In the Central Valley from Stockton to Yuba City, 30,000 to 50,000 people could benefit from late amnesty, estimated Salvador Santillan, director of the California Hispanic Resource Council in Sacramento.
Most of the potential beneficiaries are Mexican natives, and large numbers of people from Central America and Asia may also have reason to celebrate, he said.
The late-amnesty provision is one of three major immigration measures soon to gain Clinton’s signature.
Another establishes a new visa program to clear up some of the backlog of spouses and children of legal U.S. residents. The third extends for four months a program enabling certain immigrants to pay a $1,000 fine instead of having to leave the country before obtaining permanent U.S. residency.