The coming year will represent "the chance of a lifetime" for many of Orange County's estimated 100,000 illegal aliens, who are expected to apply for legal resident status under the new federal immigration law.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service will not begin accepting applications until early May, but hundreds of undocumented residents have been briefed on the new law at church workshops and have begun collecting documents needed to support their amnesty applications.
Illegal aliens who have lived in the United States continuously since Jan. 1, 1982, are eligible for temporary resident status under the new legislation. The five-year requirement does not apply to farm workers, however, who are eligible for legal resident status if they worked at least 90 days in the fields between May 1, 1985, and May 1, 1986.
Father Jaime Soto, director of Catholic Charities in Orange County, estimates that between 50,000 and 60,000 of the county's illegal aliens will apply for amnesty before the May, 1988, deadline.
While the law could bring thousands of illegal aliens out of the shadows, it is intended to make life much more difficult for those who do not qualify for amnesty and for employers who continue to hire them.
Beginning June 1, 1987, and after being given one warning, employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens will face fines ranging from $250 to $10,000 for each one hired. Employers who engage in a "pattern or practice" of hiring undocumented workers may face prison terms as well.