Nevada immigrants rush to beat law’s deadline
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Immigrants lined up outside Nevada’s Immigration and Naturalization Service offices Monday and others went to the altar to take advantage of a temporary law that allows illegal immigrants to apply for legal status.
Maria Little was one of thousands of immigrants to stand in line at the Las Vegas INS branch since the law went into effect Dec. 21.
The law, allowing immigrants to pay a $1,000 penalty and file a petition from a citizen spouse or relative, expired Monday.
But the 47-year-old Little wasn’t at the INS office to beat the deadline for herself.
”I’ve been waiting to get birth certificate papers for my brother and his family to bring them here from Mexico,” said Little, a citizen who moved to Las Vegas from Mexico 26 years ago. ”They (documents) just arrived today.”
Immigrants and their family members began lining up at the Las Vegas INS branch about 3:30 a.m. Monday, said Karen Dorman, officer in charge.
”The line was going around the building and snaking through the parking lot when I arrived at 6:30 a.m.,” she said. It remained about 30 people deep at 1 p.m.
They’ve also been lining up at Las Vegas and northern Nevada wedding chapels as couples tied the knot to qualify for legal status.
The Clark County Marriage License Bureau issued a record 12,395 licenses in March. While April’s numbers have yet to be calculated, Cheryl Vernon, Marriage License Bureau supervisor, said the bureau has seen a definite increase.
”It is directly attributable to the immigration law because they need documents to use for immigration,” she said.
Clark County records show there were more marriage licenses issued within the past week than for the most recent Valentine’s Day – historically one of the city’s busiest wedding days.
At the famous Little White Wedding Chapel on Las Vegas Boulevard, the Rev. Charlotte Richards has been busy reading from a Spanish wedding script, while down the Strip the pace has been hectic at the Little Church of the West.
”This weekend was very busy. We’ve done more weddings than we normally would,” said the chapel’s owner Greg Smith. ”I noticed four or five Latino names yesterday (Sunday).”
Business has almost doubled at the Little White Chapel, said the Rev. Ron Porras.
Meanwhile, INS employees have been inundated with incoming documents at the state’s two INS offices in Las Vegas and Reno.
The INS office in Las Vegas received about 125 applications in December and January each, by March that number had increased to 400-plus. Banos estimated that April’s number would exceed 1,000.
From 1998 to December 2000, illegal immigrants were not eligible to apply for legal status without returning to their native countries to do so.
There are several bills in Congress that would extend the provisions of 245-I, the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act, including one introduced Monday by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev, that would extend the petition filing deadline to April 30, 2002.
INS Supervisory District Adjudication Officer Kathy Banos said the Las Vegas office would accept applications through midnight.
Those who miss the deadline could be arrested unless they return to their home country and apply. There the wait could be 10 years to be allowed back in the United States.
The document-filing frenzy is evident throughout the Hispanic community – which according to 2000 Census figures has increased to 400,000, or about 20 percent of Nevada’s total population over the past decade.
Storefront lawyers and notaries posted window placards referring to specials for the April 30 filing deadline and Spanish-language newspapers boast articles about the ins and outs of the filing process.
Those who seek professional help completing the documents paid fees ranging from $40 to a $1,000 on top of their INS fees.
”A lawyer wanted me to pay $160 to do the forms,” Little said. ”So I filled them out myself.”
Even those with the proper documents won’t immediately gain legal status, in part, because of the influx of applications, Banos said.
”Realistically, it will take between 12 and 15 months from the time you file to get your interview and adjust your status,” Banos said. ”We’re working as fast as we can.”
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