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Legal VIEW

'Illegals' Eligible for Change of Status

March 26, 1987|JEFFREY S. KLEIN

Lines will be longer than usual at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service offices beginning May 5.

That is the day the INS will begin accepting applications from illegal aliens for amnesty. Applications will be accepted for only one year.

Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, signed into law by President Reagan on Nov. 6, 1986, illegal aliens who have resided continuously in the United States since before Jan. 1, 1982, may obtain legal status.

Temporary Status

Aliens who qualify will be given temporary legal status. Within two years, if they show a minimal understanding of English, U.S. history and government or are studying them, aliens can obtain permanent-residence status.

"Don't pay money to anyone, including a notario, who tells you that they can file your application now. No one can file applications yet," warns a tape-recorded message of the L.A. County Bar Assn.'s Immigration Legal Assistance Project. The taped message explains the new law in both English and Spanish. You can hear it by calling (213) 688-7788.

Those illegal aliens who have resided here since before Jan. 1, 1972, may apply now and should have an easier time obtaining legal status. They apply for something called "registry," not amnesty, and may be granted lawful permanent residence within four months, rather than waiting two years for a green card.

In order to qualify for the amnesty program, applicants must have been illegal residents continuously since before Jan. 1, 1982. That doesn't mean applicants may have never stepped foot out of the country, but such absences are limited, according to the proposed preliminary INS regulations. Applicants will not be disqualified for single absences of up to 45 days and combined absences totaling 180 days from Jan. 1, 1982, to Nov. 6, 1986.

Moreover, the INS regulations require an alien's physical presence in the United States between Nov. 6, 1986, and May 5, 1987, explains immigration lawyer John Joannes. So don't plan any visits out of the country between now and May if you are planning to apply.

The INS intends to deny applications from those who appear likely to become a public charge and have received "public cash assistance," such as welfare (but not non-cash assistance, such as public housing or food stamps). Applicants will also be disqualified if they were convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors.

The law itself is fairly vague on many issues. The details are left to the INS, which has proposed extensive regulations to implement it. Immigration lawyers intend to challenge some of the proposed regulations before they are finalized.

Many groups will be helping illegal aliens with their applications.

The Immigration Rights Project of the Legal Aid Foundation plans to begin operation in April of a telephone tape-message service, which will explain the law in 11 languages. The project also operates a speakers bureau. Contact Fernando Tafoya at (213) 487-6551 for more information.

The Asian Pacific American Legal Center, (213) 748-2022, has information about the law translated into six Asian languages.

The Immigration Legal Assistance Project Committee of the L.A. County Bar Assn. has opened an office staffed by attorneys to explain the law and assess individual cases for a $10 consultation fee.

The office is located at 300 N. Los Angeles St., Room 4349; telephone (213) 485-1872. The office is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (except Tuesdays when it closes at 1:30 p.m.). No appointment is needed and staffers speak Spanish. The office expects to have brochures available in English and Spanish within two weeks.

The consultation, explains Joannes, chairman of the bar committee, "is designed to help an individual who has a tough time understanding the process and to explain the implications of the various documents.

"The most essential thing is to try to get a careful, accurate assessment of how complicated or how simple one's case is," he says, noting that many cases will be so straightforward that legal representation will be unnecessary.

Organizations to Help

Under the law, various organizations will act as "qualified designated entities" to process applications for a set fee, although they have not been appointed yet.

More complex cases may require legal assistance. For instance, Joannes warns, if an application is denied, only 30 days is allowed to file an appeal, so you will want a lawyer who can act quickly.

For those who don't have simple cases, representation by an experienced immigration lawyer may be necessary. Be sure to retain someone who has practiced immigration law for some time. This is a new law, which has created thousands of new legal customers, so shop around. Many immigration specialists are charging a set fee, ranging from as low as $100 to as high as $2,000.

The law's impact on employers will be covered in a later column.

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