After Congress enacted the nation's new immigration law, many experts warned that it might not work well if the Immigration and Naturalization Service was insensitive or careless about implementing it. Long regarded as one of the worst-run agencies in the federal bureaucracy, INS has wasted little time in proving those fears well grounded.
When President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 he immediately made thousands of illegal immigrants eligible for legal status under the new law's amnesty provisions, which allow persons who have been in the country illegally since January, 1982, or worked on farms for 90 days within the last year, to petition for the right to remain in the country. INS will begin accepting amnesty applications next May. But, in the meantime, INS officers continued removing illegal immigrants from the United States, and made only minimal efforts to determine if the people being detained and deported might be eligible for amnesty. Immigration attorneys filed a lawsuit challenging INS' business-as-usual attitude, and this week a federal judge in Sacramento wisely ordered the INS to change its ways--at least temporarily.
U.S. Dist. Judge Lawrence K. Karlton ordered INS officials to inform illegal immigrants that they may have a right to seek amnesty before they are deported. Karlton specifically rejected an INS decision that an immigrant who leaves the United States after Nov. 6, the date on which Reagan signed the law, is ineligible for legalization because he has broken a period of "continuous physical presence" in the country that is required for the amnesty. In some instances this could mean that an otherwise eligible immigrant--say, someone who had lived in this country for several years--could not apply for amnesty because he had departed from the United States under orders from the INS. The twisted logic behind such thinking sounds like something out of Kafka or "Catch-22."