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Legalization of Aliens

August 28, 1987

It is amazing how much mis- and non-information abounds. Even so astute a writer as Doris Meissner (Op-Ed Page, Aug. 2) feels free to say, "Legalization is unique in our history."

That statement is quite inaccurate. Since at least 1929, it has been the policy of the United States to permit legalization of aliens who illegally entered our country. In that year Congress passed a statute (45 U.S. Statutes at Large (Stats) 1512-13) allowing legalization of the undocumented aliens who entered before June 3, 1921.

In 1952, the cutoff date was brought to July 1, 1924, (66 Stats. 219); in 1958, to June 28, 1940, (72 Stats. 546); in 1965, to June 30, 1948 (79 Stats. 920); and in 1986, to Jan. 1, 1972, (100 Stats. 3405). So the fact of legalization is nothing new. (The appellation "amnesty" is a product of the current media. All that is being done, in the language of the statutes, is making "a record of lawful admission for permanent residence.")

There is significant difference, however, between the above statutes and the present Immigration Reform and Control Act which advanced the cutoff date of Jan. 1, 1982. The previous statutes made no mention of any time limitation within which application must be made. The present statute requires that application be made within one year after the program started; that is, by May 4, 1988.

And, under the previous statutes, once the alien had shown that he/she was of good moral character, had resided in the United States the required time and was not otherwise ineligible to citizenship (as in the present law), the record of lawful admission was immediate upon approval of the application, making the individual eligible for citizenship right then and there. (The 1929 and 1952 statutes even made the record for permanent residence to be as of the date of the illegal entry.)

Under the present law, the earliest time the record of permanent residence can be made is in the future, Dec. 1, 1988, to be exact. And even then, citizenship cannot be obtained until, at the earliest, Nov. 1, 1993.

We should be dispelled of the notion, therefore, that the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which mainly affects Latinos, is in any way "unique" (except with respect to the employer sanctions, of course). The legislation is simply in the tradition which this country has followed for more than half a century. However, this time we have made the ability to make a record of permanent residence and to obtain citizenship more difficult and time consuming.

FRED OKRAND

ACLU Foundation

Los Angeles

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