Residency deadline extensionpossible for illegal immigrants |

Residency deadline extensionpossible for illegal immigrants

KINGS BEACH – If the crowds rushing to meet the April 30 deadline for illegal immigrants to file legal residency applications are any indication, La Comunidad Unida’s offices in Kings Beach could fill up again if Congress extends the deadline.

La Comunidad Unida, a Kings Beach nonprofit agency that, among other things, helps immigrants file legalization papers, was slammed with clients in the two months before the deadline to file legal residency applications as mandated by Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Section 245(i) allowed certain undocumented immigrants to pay a $1,000 fine and apply for legal residency without requiring that they return to their home country while their paperwork was processed. Outside of 245(i), most illegal immigrants are required to return to their home countries before applying for a visa, and they are banned from returning to the United States and their families here – in some cases, for several years.

To qualify for a visa, an immigrant had to be sponsored and have close relatives who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

The deadline, combined with local illegal immigrants’ uncertainty about the 245(i) rule, led to a challenging March and April for La Comunidad Unida, Director Josie Garcia said.

“There was a lot of confusion,” she said. “This window of opportunity only applied to those that were U.S. citizens who could apply for their spouse or underage children.”

As the deadline approached, hundreds of Lake Tahoe immigrants converged on La Comunidad Unida to get help completing their applications in time for the deadline.

“I’ve never seen so many people come through here,” La Comunidad Unida Director Josie Garcia said. “I would say we’ve had in this past month, 10 to 15 people a day coming through our office just on immigration stuff. That’s a lot for a little office like us. I didn’t know there were that many people here.”

The office typically sees five or six clients a day, she said.

A return to normalcy may be postponed if Congress extends the deadline, as some members and President George W. Bush have suggested.

Changing the law would require an act of Congress.

In a May 1 letter to congressional leaders, Bush asked for just that, arguing that up to 200,000 eligible applicants did not meet the deadline, possibly because the rules explaining the provision were not issued until late March.

“According to agency estimates, there are more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants in the country who are eligible to become legal permanent residents, primarily because of their family relationship with a citizen or legal permanent resident,” his letter says. “It remains in our national interest to legitimize those resident immigrants, eligible for legal status, and to welcome them as full participants of our society. But we will only be able to do this if the path to legalization encourages family reunification. For this reason I would support legislation that temporarily extends the recently expired April 30, 2001 filing deadline.”

In the meantime, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell have discussed the issue with officials of the Mexican government.

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