With the start today of the immigration legalization program, some Los Angeles church and social service agencies, on which the success of amnesty registration hinges, say they are not ready for the thousands of people who are expected to show up.
A sizable minority of the 80 agencies running sign-up centers were scrambling Monday for volunteers, photo-copying machines, file cabinets, index cards and computers in anticipation of handling the flood of applications, according to workers at the centers.
Officials at St. Simon Episcopal Church in San Fernando were in need of all those items but were especially looking for furniture. Church officials were worried that they will be inundated by thousands of applicants after the center opens at noon.
Officials at the International Institute in Boyle Heights, a social service agency, said it has already spent the $20,000 grant it was given to gear up for amnesty. As a result, it cannot offer sign-ups every day, said Lavinia Limon, the institute's director.
Pressing for Funds
The institute also is pressing for more funds for additional computers to handle the 25,000 applications it expects to receive, but the funds may not be obtained for some time, she said.
The amnesty unit at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in South-Central Los Angeles was shoved into a small room in the parish rectory recently after it was evicted from the church's community center on South Main Street in a squabble with the building's owner.
The cramped quarters has church officials worried that the amnesty process there could become chaotic.
Officials at three San Fernando Valley sign-up centers expressed doubts about opening today because they have yet to receive the final amnesty regulations that were released Friday by the INS.
"I hope the mail comes in early Tuesday," said one official who asked that his name not be used.
There were no estimates late Monday on precisely how many of the church and social service agency sign-up sites in the Los Angeles area may be unprepared for today. Of the 20 agencies contacted by The Times, 15 reported that they were having problems. Some activists say more and more agencies were voicing concerns as start-up day approached.
"The INS, despite all its pronouncements, dropped the load of . . . recruitment of applications and the actual (drudge) work on the church and the agencies that are not part of organized government," said Chicano activist attorney Antonio Rodriguez. "And that spells disaster."
Father Bill Jansen, pastor of Holy Cross, where one of the Los Angeles Archdiocese's 11 amnesty processing centers is located, added, "It's better to put it off."
The role of these agencies is crucial to the success of the amnesty program because as many as 4 million illegal immigrants in the United States may apply for resident legalization under the landmark immigration law that was signed by President Reagan late last year.
Some officials believe that the Los Angeles area could account for up to one-third of all amnesty applications, and many of those are likely to be processed by the churches and social service agencies.
"There's a deep, deep distrust of the INS," said an Eastside lawyer who asked that his name not be used. "The policeman of yesterday is going to be your buddy today, helping you with amnesty? Give me a break."
Under the new immigration law, of which amnesty is a major provision, illegal immigrants can apply for legal resident status if they can show that they have lived in the United States since before Jan. 1, 1982. They have one year from today to apply.
Those Captured Have 30 Days
But aliens captured by the INS after the law was signed--last Nov. 6--have only 30 days to sign up.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese has been aggressive in the pre-registration process, signing up 287,000 aliens for amnesty, but church officials are hesitant to estimate how many will eventually come to the church processing centers operated by Catholic Charities.
However, some INS officials believe that as many as 600,000 applications may be processed by the archdiocese.
Some activists, such as Limon at International Institute, said there is no need to rush in and sign up the first day.
"They ought to wait and see what shakes out of the trees," Limon said. "I don't see any problems serving 25,000 customers. I just don't want to see them all this week."
Los Angeles is not the only place in the country where these centers are facing problems.
In Texas, for example, few agencies have agreed to help the tens of thousands of potential applicants who live along the Texas-Mexico border, complained Joe Murray, chairman of the North Texas Immigration Coalition.
In Chicago, Roman Catholic Church officials were scrambling to ensure that they have enough Polish-language forms. Although Latinos make up 90% of the illegal aliens in Chicago's metropolitan area, as many as 24,000 illegal aliens from Poland may also sign up for amnesty.