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Sunday, June 20, 2004

Another Amnesty for 75,000 - 100,000 Illegal Aliens

DallasNews.com | News for Dallas, Texas | World: Mexico

'86 INS amnesty again stirs hope

Settlement paves way for thousands of illegal immigrants to apply


08:59 PM CDT on Sunday, June 20, 2004


By ERNESTO LONDOÑO / Al Día


Guadalupe Gallegos hasn't been to Mexico for more than 15 years.

The illegal immigrant, who has been in the United States since 1977, will never see her native country again because a congenital ailment left her blind in 1983. But the 67-year-old may soon be able to visit her brothers in Coahuila, Mexico, as a permanent U.S. resident.

A recent settlement between the defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service and two organizations that defend immigrants' rights may give Ms. Gallegos and thousands of other illegal immigrants in North Texas a chance to adjust their status by applying for a 1986 amnesty.

Catholic Charities and the League of United Latin American Citizens sued the INS 17 years ago, contending that the agency illegally denied amnesty to roughly 250,000 people because they made brief trips abroad without permission from the government.

The parties reached a court-approved settlement in January. Immigrants who can prove they were turned down in the late 1980s for making a quick trip abroad have until May 24, 2006, to submit applications to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the division of the Department of Homeland Security that oversees immigration benefits.

For many families, obtaining amnesty would change their lives.

"If she were forced to leave one day, we would suffer a lot," said Ms. Gallegos' sister, Alma Estrada, who has taken care of her sister since she became blind. "We can't conceive living without her."

Ms. Estrada was among dozens of immigrants who attended a workshop Thursday at Catholic Charities in Dallas, where one of the attorneys who sued the INS explained eligibility requirements.

Carlos Holguín, a Los Angeles immigration lawyer, told attendees that in order to qualify, immigrants have to prove that they've lived in the United States since January 1982 and that they were told that they were ineligible for amnesty because they traveled abroad.

Some immigrants raised their hands and shared their stories, hoping that the intricacies of their cases would somehow warrant an exception.

"I try to be very frank with them and tell them they shouldn't waste their time or money," Mr. Holguín said. "But they hear what they want to hear because these people are desperate."

Mr. Holguín said approximately 10,000 of the 250,000 original plaintiffs lived in North Texas at the time the suit was filed. Many have found other avenues to adjust their status or have returned to their home countries. Mr. Holguín said he expects this settlement to grant legal status to 75,000 to 100,000 immigrants.

President Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty into law as part of sweeping reform designed in part to curtail illegal immigration. Immigration officials were overwhelmed by the flood of applications submitted – a phenomenon that significantly increased the backlog of unresolved cases that the agency continues to grapple with.

Ms. Gallegos' relatives have already begun documenting her case.

"We're putting a lot of effort into this," Ms. Estrada said. "We feel this may be God's answer to our prayers."

E-mail elondono@aldiatx.com

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