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Deal May Be Near on Illegal Immigrants


WASHINGTON — Illegal immigrants with pending visa applications would be able to pay $1,000 and obtain green cards while remaining in the United States under a deal congressional leaders were close to reaching Thursday, sources close to the process said.

Although the proposal could help 1 million to 3 million people who have their petitions on file with the Justice Department, those who have not applied by the time the legislation is signed--perhaps as early as this weekend--would have to return to their home countries to obtain the green cards needed for permanent residency and could be barred from reentering the United States for three or 10 years.

Illegal immigrants whose work visas had been expired for less than 90 consecutive days, or 180 days total, would be able to obtain permanent residency without leaving.

Immigration advocates offered mixed reviews of the deal, which was not available in writing late Thursday and may be in flux.

The proposal falls far short of the Senate-passed permanent extension of 245 (i), the provision that lets illegal immigrants pay a $1,000 fine and avoid deportation and would expire at midnight without congressional action. But the proposed deal would grandfather in anyone who has a pending application, so some lawmakers encouraged immigrants to rush to file their petitions with the INS.

"Today's developments represent a major victory for the immigrant community. . . . Our work has paid off," Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) said Thursday. "This is important and--in a Congress that has often proven to be fiercely anti-immigrant--it should be seen as a triumph."

But others said the grandfathering clause would not help thousands of workers and was a major retreat.

"I don't think it's good news. It's a compromise that's no compromise," said Judy Golub of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn. "It leaves a lot of people out."

If the agreement takes effect, it is expected to cause a rush at INS offices nationwide as people scurry to file petitions.

"This is a disaster," said Carl Shusterman, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles. "The INS can't possibly be ready for this."

Immigration advocates, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other Democratic lawmakers, said they will continue to lobby for changes in the deal. A key proposal on the table would grandfather in all those who apply for visas by 30 days after the legislation is enacted, giving people a month to hear about the change and file petitions.

"A deal is not a deal until it's signed," Golub said. "Certainly, changing this bill will be uphill, but it needs changing."

Wilgoren reported from Washington; McDonnell from Los Angeles.

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