YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

INS 'Ecstatic' Over Stream of Applicants for Amnesty

May 07, 1987|GEORGE RAMOS and DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writers

Although some Los Angeles immigration centers ran out of amnesty application forms, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials pronounced themselves highly pleased Wednesday as the landmark legalization program attracted a steady stream of people on 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.

INS Los Angeles District Director Ernest Gustafson expressed similar sentiments, saying the region's 15 centers were operating "extremely well." 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.

Began Immediately

The staffs at some of the centers, in fact, were champing at the bit for work and began, without much prodding, to process those aliens who came in person with completed applications. At the Huntington Park center, two couples were interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed in less than 30 minutes in mid-afternoon. "They came in ready to go, so I say, 'Let's do it,' " said Huntington Park chief legalization officer Dick Quirk.

Formal interviews at the INS centers are expected to be in full swing by Monday.

Not all the thousands of aliens lining up at immigration centers were Latinos. Among the walk-ins who visited the Serra Mesa office in San Diego County were applicants from England, Canada, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Malaysia. Applicants at the INS center in Hollywood included emigres from the Philippines, Britain, Ethiopia, Japan and the Bahamas.

Nervous at First

Fausto Pogoy Jr., who came here from the Philippines seven years ago, entered the Hollywood office nervous about the application he had brought in. He left an hour later, grinning and marveling at the small laminated card that will serve as his temporary employment card.

"Oh gosh, I can't believe it," he said. "It is like a thorn removed from my heart."

But there were problems nevertheless.

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," Quirk said.

And an anticipated flood of thousands of mailed applications had not turned up. "We have things in place to deliver the mail to the Immigration and Naturalization Service if and when the volume materializes," one postal official said.

Officials in the seven-county Los Angeles district have asked that completed applications be mailed to a special INS address: P.O. Box 4000, Bell, Calif. 90201-0004.

One application did get through Wednesday. In East Los Angeles, chief legalization officer Art Alvarez was shaking his head as he inspected a box that contained 19 folders of documents that accompanied one application from a 33-year-old illegal from Mexico.

"He's trying to document it well, which is nice," Alvarez said, "but we'll probably end up giving most of the folders back to him."

Showed Up Early

Some aliens were showing up well before the scheduled 8 a.m. opening of the INS centers. Quirk said a small group of people were sleeping overnight in their cars to be among the first in line.

"When I came in at 6 o'clock today," he said, "you could see heads popping out of the sleeping bags as I was walking through in here. So rather than open at 8, we opened at 7. We'll probably keep doing it."

The centers currently close at 4:30 p.m., and some critics believe that they should be open at night.

Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said most working people cannot get to the INS centers before 4:30 p.m. She also has urged the INS to open additional offices in downtown Los Angeles that are accessible by bus.

Meanwhile, INS spokesman Jervis said he knew of only one confirmed case of fraud. It involved a man in Connecticut who turned in a duplicate set of identification papers, indicating that the papers were forged. "He must have panicked," said Jervis, adding that the man will be prosecuted.

One Year to Apply

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.

Times Staff Writers Lee May in Washington, Stephen Braun in Los Angeles and H. G. Reza in San Diego contributed to this article.

Los Angeles Times Articles