Although some Los Angeles immigration centers ran out of amnesty application forms, and the number of applicants continued at a trickle in San Diego County, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials pronounced themselves highly pleased Wednesday as the landmark legalization program entered its second day.
"People around here are ecstatic," INS spokesman Vern Jervis said of the headquarters staff in Washington. "No major problems. Just the opposite. People went into the centers, got applications and came out the happiest people you ever saw," he said of the first day of the long-awaited program.
Although the numbers sometimes were imprecise, spokesmen said 50,000 people showed up at agency offices nationwide Tuesday, and about 30,000 applications were handed out in Southern California.
The second day was slow in San Diego, but officials said that they expect a rush of applicants by the end of the month when the completed forms start arriving in the mail.
"This won't last. The post office has returned some applications already and we're in the process of setting up interviews for the applicants," said Robert Coffman, head of the legalization office in Serra Mesa.
"Right now we've got more than enough staff to handle the walk-ins, but I'm sure that in a few weeks every seat in this waiting room will be taken," he said.
Hoot Chandler, who heads the legalization office in Escondido, said that the second day of the amnesty program continued with "a steady trickle of prospective applicants." Chandler, who provided only his nickname, was called out of retirement by the INS to head the Escondido office, as was Coffman in San Diego.
Hundreds of Applications
A total of 435 applications was handed out Tuesday by the Escondido office, said Chandler, but there were no interviews. In the Serra Mesa office, 166 applications were handed out and 15 applicants were interviewed by INS employees to determine whether they qualify for amnesty, Coffman said.
Among the walk-ins who visited the Serra Mesa office were applicants from England, Canada, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Malaysia.
Of course, the vast majority of applicants are Mexican, and Coffman referred to a family of 10 who had applied for amnesty. The Carlos family of San Diego, which is made up of two boys and six girls and hails from the Mexican states of Jalisco and Aguascaliente, waited patiently in the waiting area while the parents, Agustin and Maria, were interviewed by INS officers.
Coffman said that the family, with children ranging in age from 23 to 9, was typical of many Mexican families who have applied for amnesty.
"In many cases the parents may not speak English very well, but the children are thoroughly Americanized," said Coffman. "And I've seen families where the kids don't speak Spanish at all."
Among the people visiting the legalization office were employers who walked in to pick up forms for their employees and to ask about the amnesty program and the new immigration law. One man, who asked not to be identified, said that he was picking up the forms for his maid and her husband.
"She's a hard worker. They're both terribly honest, hard-working people. Their two kids are U.S. citizens. We weren't sure what this amnesty program is all about, so I volunteered to come down here and find out and get the forms . . . Yes, they qualify. She's been working for us for almost six years and I've got the cancelled checks to prove it," he said.
Gus Guzman, who owns a San Diego landscaping company, walked into the Serra Mesa office to pick up 80 application forms for his employees.
"To be honest, I don't know how many of my workers are here legally or illegally, but some of my workers who want to apply think that this is a trick. I went down there to pick up the forms and get information for them and for myself," said Guzman.
His biggest worry is knowing what he has to do as an employer to comply with the new immigration law, said Guzman.
"I'm not sure what I have to do now. We want to make sure that we're complying with the law, but I can't get any clear answers from anybody. All of our employees are good workers and at this point I would hate to get rid of any of them," he said.
While operations were slow in San Diego, there were problems in some areas.
At least two of the INS centers, Hollywood and Huntington Park, ran out of amnesty application forms. A combination of a continuing demand for the forms and some logistical problems apparently caused the temporary shortage. "We just tell people to come back," said Dick Quirk, the chief legalization officer in Huntington Park.
Under the immigration law, signed last November, applicants have one year to apply for legalization. To qualify, they must have lived in the country since before Jan. 1, 1982.
The INS has established a toll-free number where employers and applicants can receive information about the new law in English and Spanish. The 24-hour number is (800) 777-7700.
Times staff writers Lee May in Washington, and Stephen Braun and David Holley in Los Angeles contributed to this article.