Thousands of California's illegal aliens crowded into makeshift immigration offices today to pick up applications for amnesty, hoping to become lawful residents and find a better life in America.
Despite predictions that the system would collapse under the massive job, observers said the process generally went smoothly despite spotty problems at special offices set up by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
In El Monte, the office had received only about 400 applications to hand out to aliens--far fewer than it had wanted--and ran out after being open only 50 minutes. Also, a computer breakdown delayed the first interviews at the office by half an hour.
"It's ridiculous," said Ruben Martinez of nearby West Covina, who was among the first applying for amnesty. "The first day and they don't have the forms."
"There are bound to be some kinks in the system," said the office's main legalization official, Alfred Castillo.
The INS, which began handing out applications to early birds eight days ago, had given out 25,000 of the forms by the end of business Monday, Los Angeles District Director Ernest E. Gustafson said. And the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese said it had already registered 285,000 aliens who intend to seek amnesty.
"We expect 50% of the applicants processed nationwide will be in the Western region," said Harold Ezell, Western regional director of the INS. The district includes California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam.
Ezell said he was optimistic that the application process would go smoothly, but others outside government were worried.
Some Los Angeles church and social service agencies said they were not ready for the thousands of people expected to show up and were scrambling Monday for volunteers, photocopying machines, file cabinets, index cards and computers in anticipation of handling the flood of applications.
"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," attorney Antonio Rodriguez said. "And that spells disaster."