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Controversy Won't Block Citizenship Workshop

Immigration: Santa Ana College asked Hermandad not to participate, leading some sponsors to withdraw.

September 18, 1997|NANCY CLEELAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Despite the last-minute pullout by several miffed sponsors and division within the Latino community, Santa Ana College officials said an all-day citizenship workshop will continue as scheduled Saturday and could attract more than 5,000 applicants.

Hundreds of volunteers have been trained to take photographs and fingerprints and help applicants fill out Immigration and Naturalization Service paperwork in what is expected to be the largest event of its kind ever in Orange County. The only cost to applicants will be the standard $95 INS application fee.

Organizers said more than 100,000 residents of central Orange County are eligible to become citizens. The services to be provided free Saturday would normally cost $100 to $300, and usually are not available under one roof.

"It's going to be a wonderful event," said Enriqueta Ramos, president of the Rancho Santiago Community College District board. "We have a lot of support from people in the community, and a recognition that there is a tremendous need for this kind of service."

However, event planning was marred by a dispute between the college and Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, a Latino advocacy group that is under state and local investigation for possible voter registration fraud.

College officials asked that Hermandad not participate in the event because of the investigation. "It's a legal issue for us," Chancellor Edward Hernandez said. "It in no way implies that we think anyone is guilty of anything, but we want to have no formal linkage with any organization that's in this process until it gets resolved."

Hernandez said the college made its position clear several months ago, when it began discussing a large-scale citizenship fair with the Los Angeles-based U.S. Citizenship Action Network, which has organized similar events throughout the state. Nevertheless, Hermandad was listed as a co-sponsor in event fliers that went out a month ago.

The college insisted Hermandad be dropped, Hernandez said, and in response, the Citizenship Action Network abruptly withdrew its support. "At that point, it was too late to cancel the event," he said.

Los Amigos, a local Latino community support group, joined the walkout, while other community groups, including the influential League of United Latin American Citizens, opted to remain.

Network officials did not return several phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday, and members of several other groups declined to comment on the dispute. Amin David, who leads Los Amigos and has been an ardent supporter of Hermandad, said the decision to exclude the group "created an untenable situation. . . . We cannot abandon our wounded." However, at a weekly Los Amigos meeting Wednesday morning, David encouraged individuals to help at the event.

Other fair sponsors include Santa Ana, the Sisters of St. Joseph and the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Six INS agents are scheduled to receive applications and answer questions, an agency spokeswoman said.

More than 100 faculty members, dozens of students, and several hundred community members have volunteered for the Saturday event, college officials said, but more volunteers are needed. The college will have three two-hour training sessions today, at 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and another Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Johnson Center.

"It's hard to say what will happen Saturday," Hernandez said. "You never know if something like this will affect the turnout. But from the community's perspective, most people don't deal with those kinds of political issues. They just want to know what the services are and how much they will cost."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Citizenship Workshop

Date: Saturday

Time: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Service: Free citizenship assistance includes fingerprints, photos and assistance with INS application forms

Cost: $95, the standard INS application fee

Requirement: Must be legal U.S. resident for at least five years and able to converse in English

Note: Volunteers are needed; if you are interested in helping, call (714) 564-5049 or (714) 564-5061

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