SAN DIEGO — Immigration officials, responding to pressure from Western growers, plan to open a new amnesty processing center in southern San Diego County where foreign farm workers can apply for legal status.
U.S. authorities have also agreed to make it easier for foreign farm workers from Mexico to enter the United States legally under the terms of the year-old immigration law. Agricultural interests have argued that less restrictive guidelines are needed to avert a shortage of farm workers next year.
Among other things, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is apparently ready to open the new center at the Otay Mesa international crossing, just across from Tijuana, where agricultural laborers can apply for legal status. The center reportedly may be opened as soon as Tuesday.
The border facility is considered important because it will provide quick access to the thousands of migrants who regularly cross into the United States illegally from Tijuana, which is considered the most concentrated crossing point for undocumented immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. A similar center already exists in Calexico, across the border from the Mexican city of Mexicali.
"Tijuana's the major crossing area, so this should help a lot," said Wayne Smith, director of Alien Legalization for Agriculture, a consortium of agricultural interests working to legalize field laborers.
Expected Next Week
INS officials would not confirm the opening of the new center directly, but several indicated privately that they understood the facility would be inaugurated next week.
In addition, said a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), lawmakers on Thursday inserted language in a congressional spending bill that will greatly ease the burden on foreign farm workers arriving at designated U.S.-Mexico border crossings with the intention of filing for legal residence in the United States. INS officials agreed to the change, said Bill Livingstone, the senator's spokesman.
In order to qualify as a legal resident under the "special agricultural worker" status provisions of the immigration law, workers must demonstrate that they performed at least 90 days of farm labor in the United States during the one-year period that ended May 1, 1986.
Under the new guidelines, the farm workers arriving at the border centers will be given 90-day passes to enter the United States after simply presenting U.S. immigration authorities with "non-frivolous" applications indicating that they qualify for legal residence under the law, Livingstone said. The workers will not necessarily have to show documentation, he said.
The changes, incorporated in an omnibus spending bill, will become effective when Congress passes the spending legislation, probably next week, and it is signed into law by the President, Livingstone said.
Through Dec. 15, about 226,000 illegal aliens nationwide had applied for amnesty under the farm-labor provisions of the year-old immigration law.
An 11-year-old Mexican boy with leukemia was granted his last wish, to become legal, as he lay on his deathbed Friday. Part II, Page 4.