Work authorization valid until Sept. 1 is available immediately to any illegal aliens eligible for amnesty, federal officials and immigrant rights activists announced Tuesday.
Under the terms of a court settlement reached Monday in Sacramento, illegal aliens seeking employment may simply sign a declaration that they believe that they qualify for amnesty under the new immigration law and intend to apply for it. This document may then be retained by employers as legal protection against possible fines and criminal penalties.
Although the new law made it unlawful to knowingly hire illegal aliens after Nov. 6, 1986, a "grandfather clause" allows continued employment of illegal aliens hired before that date. This grandfather clause and a delay in enforcement of sanctions until June 1, however, have not been fully understood by many employers.
The procedure outlined in the court agreement was proposed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service last week in tentative regulations due to become final sometime before May 5, the starting date for amnesty applications.
Has Force of Law
But the agreement reached in U.S. District Court in Sacramento gives this procedure the force of law and puts it into effect immediately, according to Peter Schey, executive director of the National Center for Immigrants' Rights Inc., one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
"The work permits, which workers will be able to self-issue, beginning immediately, will be valid, under the agreement with INS, until Sept. 1," Schey told a Los Angeles press conference.
Robert L. Bombaugh, director of the Office of Immigration Litigation in the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, described the terms of the agreement as only a slight change from previous INS policy. Bombaugh pointed out that the previous policy was summarized in brochures released at a March 16 press conference in Washington when the proposed regulations were announced.
In those brochures, employers are advised to hire only U.S. citizens or aliens authorized to work in the United States. The brochures also point out that verification procedures are not required until June 1, and that forms will be available by that date.
Under the agreement, the brochure will be reworded to state that an illegal alien who signs such a statement "is authorized to work," Bombaugh said. The policy is to be published in the Federal Register, and 500,000 copies of the brochure will be distributed to employers, Bombaugh said.
Schey said the agreement is important because, after the law was signed, "a large number of employers began the process of threatening people with termination, or actually terminating people, because they did not have employment authorization. What we experienced was a growing tide of firings, threats to fire and refusals to hire workers without work authorization."
Appearing with Schey at the press conference were representatives of religious and labor organizations and the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles, the main local umbrella group monitoring implementation of the law. These groups announced plans to print and distribute forms that can be signed and then used as work permits.
Among other issues, the lawsuit, filed by a coalition of immigrant rights groups, still seeks to compel the INS to admit agricultural workers into this country if they can show eligibility for legal status under the new law.