Acknowledging that its amnesty program has not been a success among Asians, the Immigration and Naturalization Service on Tuesday promoted three Asian-Americans to help set up an outreach program to send agency vans into Asian business areas and translate information to recruit more applicants.
Western Regional INS Commissioner Harold Ezell, saying, "It's up to us to market this better," introduced the newly named Asian-Pacific outreach coordinator at a press conference, praising Taiwan-born John Tu in a Mandarin phrase meaning "very good."
Tu, a naturalized citizen who came here 15 years ago, is "somebody who understands the value of taking advantage of this opportunity" for legal status, Ezell said.
So far, the yearlong amnesty program, now slightly more than half over, has attracted applications from only 15,514 Asian-Pacific people in the service's western region, only 2.7% of total applications.
"Most of the people, they probably don't understand what's going on, what is amnesty all about. And another problem is the language problem," said Tu, who speaks Cantonese and Mandarin. "They know there's an amnesty program, but they don't know if they qualify or not. That's why they're afraid. . . ."
Tu, until recently an INS inspector at Los Angeles International Airport, will work with newly appointed Los Angeles district office coordinator Susan Kim, a Korean native who had worked at a local legalization office, and longtime INS employee Sue S.K. Lau Choy, outreach coordinator for the San Francisco district office.
By Dec. 1, amnesty instructions now printed in Spanish and English will have been translated into eight Pacific Rim languages, from Tongan to Japanese.
Coordinated by Tu, and at the request of any Asian community or church group, the INS will send its vans "into Chinatown . . . into Koreatown . . . into little Tokyo, the Filipino community," said INS District Director Ernest Gustafson.
Filipinos and Thais constitute the largest eligible groups, followed by Koreans, Taiwanese, and 30 other nationalities. Officials estimate as many as 40,000 Asian and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles alone are eligible for legalization under the 1986 immigration law.
Stewart Kwoh, director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, said his group had met with INS officials months ago to suggest such efforts be made in "culturally sensitive and appropriate language methods."
"We contributed to encouraging them to do outreach," especially document translation, and "although local officials were sympathetic, national (office of the INS) said no," said Kwoh, whose agency did translate some of the amnesty documents for the INS.
"I think it will help if they can do it appropriately," he said, although he mused that the vans might prompt people "to think it's a raid."
"Time is short," he added. "I'm glad they've assigned this, but I do think because of the shortness of time, an extension of the (May) deadline would be appropriate."