1987: Amnesty applications begin slowly

Thirty-five years ago, the federal government’s amnesty program began with a small attendance at immigration centers in San Diego and Imperial County. Eventually, some 2.7 million people were granted legal residency under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

From the Union of San Diego, May 6, 1987:

Light attendance for amnesty

By Joe Gandelman, Staff Writer

The federal government’s landmark amnesty program began calmly yesterday in San Diego and the imperial counties with little participation in the legitimacy centers, amid forecasts that the number of applications will increase in the coming weeks.

By the end of the day, the immigration and naturalization service centers at Kearny Mesa, Escondido and El Centro had submitted 850 applications, interviewed, processed and issued eight temporary residence permits, and prepared to issue three more today. Applicants were from Mexico, Iceland, Canada, India, Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guyana.

INS officials attributed the low turnout yesterday to fears of undocumented aliens for deportation, late arrival of applications, delays in medical examinations, the presence of the media and confusion during the 12-month legalization period.

“There is a tendency to believe that if you do not apply by midnight on May 5, you will turn into a pumpkin. “But this is not a Cinderalla program – you have one year to apply,” said Jim Turnage, INS Regional Director.

Confusion was evident between many of the aliens who showed up at the offices of the 11 agencies in San Diego and the imperial counties that are authorized to process applications, according to some employees.

“We had people who thought this was the last and first day to apply: Everyone panicked,” said Flora Alatorre, chief of staff for North County Centro Inc., an Escondido social service.

Art Shanks, deputy regional director of immigration reform, predicted that the INS would be flooded with applications by January because “by then people will know we are honest and generous as soon as they see people leave here with this magic card.” ”

He said the INS centers are ready to handle 160,000 applications. The INS estimates that there are 100,000 undocumented aliens in San Diego County and 5,000 in Imperial County, and that half of them could qualify for amnesty.

By mid-morning, the first temporary residence permit in San Diego was issued to Maria Cardenas de Hermosillo by Lakeside and her three children.

Each member of the family was photographed for IDs, which allows them to stay in the country. Bobby Joel, 18, also signed up for the Select Service. And Maria, who has been working as a maid since she came here in 1977, said: “I’m so happy. “I never thought it would be so soon.”

Sandra’s daughter, 19, stood a few feet away, pulled out her own piece of paper and looked at it in awe.

“I feel like I really belong here now,” he said softly.

In Escondido, INS officials said 12 people camped overnight outside the center door waiting for crowds that never took place.

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