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New Law, Misinformation Bewilder Immigrants

Legislation: The complex measure could lead to green cards for many. Perplexed applicants turn to private agencies, or sometimes the unscrupulous, for help.

January 29, 2001|PATRICK J. McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Those eligible under this section must apply by April 30.

At a community charla, or discussion, at One Stop Immigration on the Eastside recently, it was clear just how much misunderstanding exists about the new law.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 30, 2001 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Immigration law--A story Monday on new immigration rules did not list the correct telephone number for information. Operators at the correct number--(323) 260-2172--can direct callers to toll-free numbers in 10 languages.

With about 400 people waiting, counselors allowed about 100 in at a time. Participants were reminded that there was no general amnesty.

"I have an aunt in Chicago; can she apply to get me papers?" asked Irma Villa, a 35-year-old mother of three.

A counselor, Mario A. Villa, had heard similar questions before.

"Aunts, uncles, grandmothers, friends--none of these can petition for immigrant relatives," Villa said. "Only close relatives, like spouses, parents and the brothers and sisters of citizens."

Irma Villa's husband, Juan Villa, who works at a car dealership, wanted to know if his failed amnesty application from the 1980s might be revived. He was told to seek an appointment with an advisor.

Those with any possibility of receiving green cards through legal relatives or employers were urged to file applications by April 30.

"Don't wait until the last minute," said Julio Martinez, a One Stop coordinator.

Julio Morales, a 32-year-old truck driver, had a question. He and his girlfriend have been together for four years, living as man and wife. They have a three-year-old son, Cesar, who accompanied them and is a U.S. citizen. But, Morales said, there is one problem: He has a green card; his girlfriend is illegal.

"Can I file for her even though we are not married?" Morales asked.

"Go get married and file a petition for her before April 30," a counselor replied. "And invite me to the party."

Immigration lawyers and experts are encouraging people in similar predicaments to formalize such unions in time to qualify under the new law. But, they warn, a fraudulent marriage with a green card in mind is a federal crime.

Morales was clearly displeased with the response. "I don't see why we should have to get married," he said. Nonetheless, he said he probably would take the advice.

His girlfriend, Beatriz Meneses, 23, couldn't suppress her smile. Finally, she said.

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