Richard Quirk, 61, a white-haired man with a quick smile and down-home manner, retired in 1978 after 28 years of working in various enforcement positions with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
He and his wife were living in a Florida trailer park when they got a letter earlier this year inviting him to temporarily rejoin the service to help grant amnesty to the illegal aliens he had spent so many years trying to hunt down. He accepted, and moved to Los Angeles to be at the center of the action.
"It's another law," Quirk said. "This time I'm not going to carry a gun. I'm going to carry a fountain pen. I'm going out there to convince people, 'Uncle is not kidding. Come in.' We're going to afford these people the opportunity finally to enjoy the rights the rest of us have."
Quirk is now running the Huntington Park legalization office, one of 15 in the INS' seven-county Los Angeles District. The top two slots at each office are filled by people with INS backgrounds, but many of the adjudicators--who will conduct most interviews--are new to the immigration service.
Among them is Caron Martinez, 27, a Huntington Park office adjudicator who said she signed up to "be on the ground floor of something that's this historical."
Martinez, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, said she picked up some familiarity with immigration law working in U.S. embassies in Mexico and Ecuador.
"I don't come to it that cold," she said. "We'll be the ones interviewing . . . but there'll be someone down the hall. I get the sense that if I have a question about someone's employment verification being good enough, I can go to a supervisor and say, 'I think it should be this way, but can you give me some guidance?' "
Nestora Ramirez, an adjudicator in the East Los Angeles office, left the INS in 1979 after about eight years in office positions dealing with the public. A real estate broker, she has put that work aside to join the amnesty effort.
"I wanted to help the people," Ramirez said. "I knew that I could, because of my background. I speak Spanish fluently, and this is a job where you can really help."
Graciela Sosa, 24, a graduate student in public administration at USC with experience teaching Spanish, works as an adjudicator under Quirk.
"I saw the opportunity of applying some of the things I've learned in the classroom," she said, explaining why she applied for the job.
Sosa declined to predict whether things would go smoothly in the next few weeks.
"I think it's a question that no one knows, because we don't know how many illegal people are out there," she said. "We don't know how many people we'll be dealing with. We can't predict anything."