An independent study of the nation's 9-month-old amnesty program warns that the effort to "bring order to the nation's complex immigration structure will be squandered" unless federal officials intervene quickly to correct problems in the remaining three months.
The study, to be released today by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, projects that no more than 1.4 million illegal aliens are likely to apply for legalization--well below the 1.9 million predicted by federal officials.
But the 143-page study suggests that an extension of the yearlong amnesty program will not be necessary if the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service moves quickly to improve its "seriously inadequate" publicity efforts in ethnic communities.
"The program should end (in the one-year period) as Congress decided it," concluded Doris Meiss-ner, a former acting commissioner of the INS and co-author of the 143-page Carnegie study. The foundation, which conducts research into international affairs and publishes the influential quarterly, Foreign Policy, based its study on interviews with more than 120 federal officials, immigrant advocates, social service workers and business leaders.
Meissner and co-author Demetrios G. Papademetriou, executive director of Population Associates International, said that in the final months of legalization, federal officials needed to make major changes in their publicity campaign and ease requirements that have dissuaded thousands of eligible immigrants from applying for amnesty.
In Los Angeles, Harold Ezell, commissioner of the INS Western region, expressed disappointment with the study's assessment of his agency's efforts. "Not to strongly say this is a phenomenal thing that the INS has done in such a short time really blows my mind," Ezell said.
Ezell insisted that in the Western region, which includes California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, there has been a concerted effort to reach the illegal immigrant community.
However, he did agree with several study recommendations that the INS loosen some of its procedural requirements in the final weeks of the amnesty program. One such proposal calls for allowing applicants to submit only partial documentation before the May 4 deadline; another called for increased office hours in the final weeks.
Labeling the agency's lack of coordinated public information a "major program deficiency,"Meissner and Papademetriou called for an effective national publicity campaign in the final months of amnesty.
"The lack of a national strategy for both media and outreach and the lack of a collaborative public-private effort have contributed to large nationality and regional variations" throughout the country, the authors reported.
California and the Western states, which the Carnegie authors applaud as "the (amnesty) program's showcase," have been responsible for almost 70% of all legalization applications. In contrast, the showing in the Northeast has been so dismal that many legalization offices and independent processing centers, or "Qualified Designated Entities," have closed for lack of business.
The Carnegie study also suggested that in cases where immigrant families appear to be split between those who are eligible and those who are not, the INS "send a clear signal that it intends to treat ineligible family members as deserving of sympathetic treatment . . . on a case-by-case basis."
Many immigrant activists have insisted that the agency find a way to keep illegal alien families in the United States who otherwise will be in danger of being split by differing eligibility standards. Unlike the Carnegie authors, most immigrant advocates have urged some form of special status protecting illegal alien families from being torn apart and giving them work permits.
While complimenting the government for building "an efficient infrastructure" of legalization offices, Meissner and Papademetriou said that there are still significant delays in the INS processing offices and confusion caused by uncertainty over the amount of documentation required by the agency.
"Timely decisions must be the (INS') highest priority," the authors said.
The study also urges the INS to do a better job of promoting its processing centers and to loosen the rigid governmental reimbursement system that has slowed compensation to some agencies, forcing them to close. The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, has closed 12 of its original 18 offices.
Linda Wong, vice chairwoman of the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles, said that while she agrees with most of the report's recommendations, she is disappointed with its failure to call for an extension beyond May 4, saying that it is the only way the agency could come close to its prediction of 1.9 million applicants.