Late last year, after a decade of often-emotional political debate, Congress approved, and President Reagan signed into law, a major revision of the nation's immigration laws. This week, millions of people across the nation will begin to feel the impact of those changes.
Under provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, illegal aliens who have been in the United States for at least five years can begin the process of legalizing their status on Tuesday. The doors to legalization will remain open for a year afterward.
It is estimated that 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 people may qualify for legalization, or "amnesty," as it is often referred to. And the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service expects the largest number of amnesty applications it receives to come from Los Angeles and elsewhere in Southern California.
The amnesty program will provide an important opportunity for many illegal immigrants to emerge from the "shadow society" in which they now live, according to Los Angeles' Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger M. Mahony. The Catholic church here is helping hundreds of thousands of people apply for legalization.
But such a massive and unprecedented undertaking also brings with it potential for confusion, misunderstanding and even abuse. For that reason, the Los Angeles Times and La Opinion (the biggest English- and Spanish-language newspapers in Southern California) are collaborating in publishing this special supplement, "Becoming Legal," as a public service to the residents of this region.
This supplement does not attempt to judge the new law, nor to discuss any of its merits or shortcomings. Such discussions belong in other sections of The Times and La Opinion. Instead, this section aims to be mostly informational. It is an effort to explain--as simply as possible and as clearly as can be determined at this time--how the law will work, particularly with regards to amnesty.
As with any new law that is both complex and controversial, it must be emphasized that some facets of the Immigration Reform and Control Act could change in the coming months and years. Congress could decide to amend the new law if it decides that sections of it need to be refined. Some members of Congress are already discussing this possibility.
The law is also likely to be challenged in the courts, which could result in major or minor modifications. The government has already made some modifications in response to lawsuits. Thus, what is published here is based on the regulations that have been made public by the U.S. Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service as of May 1, 1987. It should remain valid for several months.
It should also be noted that two other important sections of the law will not be fully implemented until next month.
These include the section that will govern how agricultural laborers can apply for amnesty under the law. Congress decided that farm workers do not have to meet the same residency requirements that urban workers do. By the same token, ranchers and farmers must meet different labor requirements than employers in urban industries.
This supplement also contains only limited information about another important section of the new law--the penalties that are designed to discourage U.S. employers from hiring illegal aliens as workers.
Still unpublished are the regulations outlining how any person who feels that he or she has been discriminated against under the new law can file complaints with the federal government. This supplement briefly outlines what is known of these three areas up to now, but it must be emphasized that it is subject to change.
By providing clear, up-to-date information on the new law, this section should help illegal immigrants avoid any unnecessary costs or trouble in dealing with the new law. Already there have been reports of unscrupulous individuals using the confusion and fear generated by the immigration reforms to extort money from immigrants and otherwise try to swindle them. We hope this section will help people avoid such rip-offs.
By the same token, it is hoped that this section will help steer those persons who do need special assistance in dealing with the new law, perhaps because their case is particularly complicated, to the reputable community agencies that can meet their needs most efficiently.
It will be noted that the format of this section is bilingual, in English and Spanish. That is because the majority of persons who will be affected by the law in Southern California are immigrants from Latin America. By publishing in both languages, we hope that this section will be helpful to all segments of society in Southern California--not just to workers who want to legalize their status, but also to any employers who want to help employees who are in this country illegally.