The immigration law has spawned many questions, some straightforward , others complex and technical. In an interview last week in his office, Times Staff Writer Marita Hernandez posed some of the most frequently asked questions to William King, INS regional director for immigration reform. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Q: Pretend that I'm an alien. If I have no proof of my early years in this country, is there anything I can do to make up for it?
A: The law says you have to have resided here unlawfully since Jan. 1, 1982. If they're saying they have no proof during those early years, I find that hard to believe because there are paper trails that can be established by one means or another and they're limited only to the imagination of the person involved. If they were here during those early years and they were employed in hidden industry, if you will, they still lived someplace. They had an address. They had a landlord. They had friends. They had employers. They went to churches. They saw doctors. Maybe there were children born. There were school records.
For children who were attending school, there is a whole variety of means of proving residence during that period. I can't emphasize strongly enough that we're not looking for ways to deny these applications. We will be looking for ways to approve them.
There are a variety of means which will tend to prove residency, such as affidavits from neighbors, friends, former employers, members of the clergy. Dental. Medical records. Driver's licenses. The range is unlimited.
Q: Would my eligibility be affected if I have used a fraudulent Social Security card?
A: No. We don't care whose name or who they claimed to be in the past. All they have to do is prove their physical presence here. Their continuous residence during that period, by whatever name.
Q: How can I get proof of employment from a former employer who kept no records and paid me under the table?
A: Again, that would have to be by affidavit. There's no other means. One thing I should stress here is the confidentiality aspect of that application process too. Nobody need fear that anything contained in that application will be given to another agency or will be made available even to our own investigators or enforcement people for their purposes.
Q: Would the employer be open or leave himself open to liability for taxes if he provided a letter to the employee?
A: Not at all. He will not be liable because the information contained in that application is not available to anyone.
Q: Is there anything I can do if a former employer refuses to give me proof?
A: No. We have no means of forcing an employer to provide the necessary information.
Q: Let's say I've never filed for income tax. Will this affect my eligibility? Or will I be liable for back taxes?
A: Not for temporary residence. No. The information that's submitted in the application for temporary residence, as we've said, is totally confidential and it will not affect the application for temporary residence.
It will, however, affect the permanent residence. . . . At the time a person makes application for permanent residence, they will then have to prove that they have paid their taxes for the past three years. So at that time, it may come into play, but not at the time of application for temporary residence. One thing to remember is that you have an 18-month period (when) they'll be in temporary residency status, so they'll need to be paying taxes during that period. So what we're talking about is another year and a half that they may end up having to pay back taxes on.
Q: Let's say I'm a single working mother of U.S.-born children, receiving supplementary income through AFDC--will this disqualify me?
A: We don't feel that will be disqualifying, but we would have to look at it later on because it may relate back to "public charge" possibilities on the part of the parent. If it's shown, for example, that the applicant is not able to support himself and family, then the public charge aspect of the bill could be invoked. In other words, the intent of Congress is that all people who are going to gain this legalization status will be self-supporting.
The other thing, though, that I should add: We're not so inclined to look backwards in this. . . . Keep in mind: prospective rather than retrospective, all the way along the line. We'll be looking at their potential rather than their past. And if they are employed now and they show even a short history of employment, the ability to take care of themselves, then that will overcome any receipt of welfare in their past.
Q: What if I was convicted of a felony in my home country, but it was a political offense resulting from political persecution against me?