The Immigration and Naturalization Service went on the offensive this week in an effort to explain why it is determined to deport Santa Monica police officer and former British bobby Ian Page by June 6.
"Page is an illegal alien," Harold Ezell, INS Western Regional Commissioner, said at a press conference Wednesday. "There are no state or federal provisions for him either to work here or stay here. This agency will not tolerate his presence in the United States" after his deportation deadline.
Page and his many outraged supporters maintain that he is the victim of fraud, bungled paper work and a rigid INS bureaucracy. They say that the INS can in limited and compelling circumstances extend a deportation deadline and that Page should qualify for an extension.
Page and his lawyer have returned to Immigration Court in the hope of having his case reopened.
"I was a victim and I am not going to be punished by this country because of it," Page said.
But Los Angeles INS District Director Ernest Gustafson said the fact that Page cooperated in an INS investigation and is under subpoena to testify in several felony cases are not reasons to let him wait in the United States for his permanent residency visa, which may take more than two years to come through.
Gustafson and Ezell said that Page was ordered deported a year ago when it was found that he had overstayed his student visa, and that Page has to go. They also leveled a new charge yesterday, claiming that Page knowingly worked illegally for the city of Santa Monica when he accepted a job with the Police Department in 1981. He is now a training officer in the department.
"That he was overtly engaged in (work)," Gustafson said of Page's employment, "there is no way to rectify that."
But Page denies that he knowingly worked illegally.
Page's story is a long and complicated tale. While on a 1980 vacation to California, Page and his wife Susan, both 38, and their son Leon, 13, liked what they saw and decided to move to the United States.
Shortly thereafter, Page received a two-year student visa and enrolled in the Rio Hondo Police Acadamy in Whittier. His performance there along with his 12 years experience as a policeman in England attracted the attention of the Santa Monica Police Department, which offered him a job and promised to take care of the paper work necessary for him to receive a permanent visa.
A foreigner can qualify for a permanent-residency visa if he is offered a job by an employer who can show the federal government it cannot find a qualified American citizen to fill the position.
The city applied for Page's permanent visa, but its first application was rejected in 1984 because the city had not fulfilled all of the technical requirements called for by the federal government.
The city then hired an attorney specializing in immigration law and by July, 1985, had filed a new application for Page. But because of the backlog of requests for visas, there is no way Page can receive a visa during the next two years, Gustafson said.
According to the city's attorney, Ron Bonaparte, Page's application should eventually result in a permanent visa because the Police Department has had a shortage of qualified officers.
That was confirmed by police Chief James F. Keane. Because of the department's strict qualifications, "we haven't been up to strength for a quarter of a century," he said.
Page and his current lawyer, David Ross, said that Page cleared the first hurdle on the road to a permanent visa when he received his labor certification from the Department of Labor this month. Labor certification is a requirement that must be fulfilled before an applicant can receive a visa.
But Gustafson and Ezell said they doubt that Page could not be replaced by an American citizen. "Labor certification has no bearing on anything," Gustafson said.
The city of Santa Monica has not been notified that Page is working there illegally, said Personnel Director Gordon Johnson. "I haven't heard that," he said when told of the INS allegations. "I assume he is working here legally."
And according to Page's attorney, the INS gave Page permission to work in 1983 without any expiration date or other conditions. "That is the legal work authorization that he received from the INS," Ross said.
Back in 1981, Page went to a lawyer to obtain work authorization papers so that he could accept Santa Monica's job offer while his permanent visa application was being processed. "I did not work for five months until I received official (permission to work)," Page said.
Work papers obtained in 1981 by Page's then-attorney, who has declined to be interviewed, were fraudulent, Page and the INS agree. But the fraud was not discovered until 1983. In the meantime, the papers were accepted as valid by both Page and the Police Department and he was sworn in in 1981. At that point Page was working illegally, Gustafson said.
But in 1983 when it was discovered that Page's "official documentation" papers were fraudulent, Page agreed to help the INS investigate the fraud and received permission to continue working. Gustafson confirmed that Page helped the INS with its investigation. No arrests were made and no indictments were issued.
Both Page and Ross say he was promised that he could stay here and wait for his visa in return for his cooperation with the INS investigation.
"The truth is, promises were made," Ross said.
But when asked if Page was promised he could stay here, Gustafson said, "Absolutely not."
Page's claim of a promise is the basis of a motion to Immigration Judge Ingrid Hyrcinko to reopen his case.
While this has been labeled a "smoke screen" by Gustafson, Ross said he is optimistic that he will win his motion and, once the case is reopened, prove that the government reneged on a deal with Page that would allow him to continue to be Santa Monica's bobby.