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More Than 100,000 Immigrants Expected to Apply for Legal Status

May 03, 1987|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

More than 100,000 illegal immigrants living in the South Bay will start applying for amnesty Tuesday, a process that can immediately qualify them to work legally in this country and eventually lead to citizenship.

Most of the applications will be handled at a legalization center set up by the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in a Gardena business complex at 555 Redondo Beach Blvd. The closest of 14 other INS centers in Southern California is in Bellflower.

2,000 in Two Days

Richard Kellner, head of the Gardena center, said about 2,000 applicants showed up during a two-day period last week when trucks were just beginning to deliver furniture and equipment. He said his 26-member staff handed out forms in the parking lot until tables could be set up inside the door of the vacant 10,000-square-foot office.

Several South Bay communities have heavy concentrations of illegal immigrants, including Inglewood, Lennox, Lawndale, Gardena, Carson, Harbor City, Wilmington and San Pedro. High housing costs prevent most illegals from living in the beach communities, but many go there to work in restaurants, factories and homes, or to perform outdoor chores, such as gardening.

Immigrants applying for amnesty must first fill out an application, mail it to P. O. Box 4000, Bell, Calif. 90201-0004, then wait for about a month for an appointment with an INS interviewer at the Gardena center, Kellner said. He said a temporary work authorization goes out with the notice setting up the appointment.

During the interview, he said, INS employees will review information and documents intended to show that an immigrant entered the United States before Jan. 1, 1982, and resided continuously in the country since then, as required by law.

Kellner said the local office will recommend approval or denial of an application, but the final decision will be made by an INS office in Laguna Nigel after a thorough study of the documents.

250 Interviews a Day

Kellner said his staff will be able to interview about 250 applicants a day. An array of computers is being installed to speed up the handling of what is expected to be mountains of information, he said.

"We are aware that some immigrants may be tempted to supply falsified documents, but we would strongly advise them to play it straight with us," Kellner said. "Violators are subject to criminal prosecution, and we will prosecute."

Kellner said the latest anti-fraud technology will be used in ferreting out false information and in producing new identification cards and other documents that will be issued to eligible immigrants.

"If a person isn't eligible for legalization, we will tell him and he can walk out the door without any fear that the information he supplied will be used against him," Kellner said. "The law provides complete confidentiality--except in cases of fraud."

Kellner said that under the new immigration law, eligible immigrants have until May 4, 1988, to apply for temporary resident status. Eighteen months after that, those who obtain temporary status can return to the Gardena office to seek permanent status, he said, and then in about five more years, achieve citizenship.

He said illegal immigrants will pay the same application fees charged those who enter the country legally--$185 for adults, $50 for minor children, with a limit of $420 for each family.

Many immigrants with limited or no proficiency in English--application forms are printed only in English--have sought assistance from church or other organizations in filling out their forms. The INS recognizes 24 such organizations in Southern California and pays them about $15 for each completed application.

In the South Bay, the only such organizations on the government's list are the Loving Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gardena and an office of Catholic Charities in Torrance. However, several other South Bay churches are helping unofficially, including Holy Family Catholic Church in Wilmington and Bethesda Presbyterian in Gardena.

Father Luis Valbuena, pastor of the Wilmington church, said 30,000 immigrants have pre-registered there since the first of the year, and at least another 20,000 have signed up at 13 other parishes in the South Bay. He said church volunteers are ready to work long hours every day to handle "a lot more who want to register." He estimated that the total number seeking amnesty in the area could easily exceed 100,000.

Tony Linares, a worker in the Holy Family social services office, said, "Some of the people we see here are still confused, wondering if it's really true that they can get legalized. But I think most are very happy that they have a chance to get their papers fixed."

On the practical side, Linares said, the immigrants hope that legal status will enable them to earn more than $2 an hour, which he said many are being paid now.

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