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VALLEY FOCUS | North Hollywood

Mobile Unit Aims to Cut Printing Backlog

July 30, 1998|MARGARET RAMIREZ

Hoping to make a dent in the overwhelming backlog of immigrants who need to be re-fingerprinted, the Immigration and Naturalization Service launched its new fingerprint mobile unit in the San Fernando Valley on Wednesday morning and printed 75 potential citizens.

The INS van--which is equipped with three portable fingerprinting countertops, three technicians and a computer--set up shop at the East Valley Multipurpose Senior Center, where more than 5,000 citizenship applications are pending.

The outreach is part of a massive initiative by the INS to cut through the Los Angeles backlog of more than 200,000 newcomers who need to be re-fingerprinted.

The new prints are required either because the original prints were rejected or the original background check sat idle in an INS office past the 15-month expiration date and prints must be retaken to ensure the person has not committed recent crimes.

Some, like 74-year-old Arshalouis Hagopian, who was being printed for the sixth time, expressed frustration with the system.

"I certainly hope they get it right this time," said Silva Hagopian, her daughter-in-law. "I can't understand why they put us through such misery."

The day began on a chaotic note when immigrants arrived at the center for 9 a.m. appointments only to find the INS not there.

"We were late," confessed Raul Acosta, director of the INS fingerprint centers.

"Things are a little hectic, but it's going well. It's still a new program, so we have to work things out."

The center's outdoor courtyard resembled a mini United Nations as immigrants from Latin America, Armenia, India, the Philippines and Canada sat under a sweltering sun waiting for their numbers to be called.

During the mobile unit's next visit, on Aug. 12, Acosta said immigration officials would try to improve scheduling so the wait would not be as long.

Geneva Ruiz Hyatt, immigration counselor for the center, said other unanticipated problems included parking and setting up a waiting room.

"We still have to work out the kinks, but we're very grateful that they are coming here."

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