Appeals court rules for immigrants in 14-year-old case

By Michelle R. Smith The Associated Press
Friday April 19, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — More than 100,000 illegal immigrants could be affected by a federal appeals court ruling this week that rejected immigration authorities’ interpretation of a decision by Congress in the 1980s to grant some illegal immigrants amnesty, plaintiffs said. 

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument by the Immigration and Naturalization Service that certain illegal immigrants were not eligible for legal residency under a 1986 law that granted amnesty. 

The INS first interpreted the law to bar amnesty for anyone who left the United States for even a brief period since 1982 and returned illegally using a nonimmigrant visa. Many amnesty applicants were turned away and many others said they were discouraged from applying before the policy was ruled illegal in 1988. 

The INS objected to the court-ordered remedy, which extended the amnesty filing deadline for those who had been turned down. The class-action case bounced through the courts for years, reaching the 9th Circuit three times and at one point reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Calling the government’s appeal “insubstantial,” Monday’s decision, made public by plaintiffs’ lawyers Thursday, would allow those who were denied or turned away during the original amnesty period from 1987 to 1988 to apply for amnesty under the 1986 law. 

“As many as possibly 100,000 people will finally, hopefully, achieve a remedy that Congress intended them to achieve 14 years ago,” said Peter Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and lead plaintiffs attorney in the case. “They have, in essence, been forced to live an underground existence for 14 years, when if the INS had only followed the law, the vast majority would now be U.S. citizens.” 

The ruling applied to those who applied to the INS for amnesty, as well as those who tried to apply, but were turned away before submitting their applications, Schey said. 

A spokeswoman for the INS said the government was reviewing the ruling and had not yet decided what further action, if any, to take. 

The case is Newman vs. INS, 99-56544.