Thousands of U.S. citizens have applied for jobs paying an average hourly wage of $4.80 after the Immigration and Naturalization Service's campaign last week to oust illegal aliens from "quality jobs," INS officials said yesterday.

Almost three-quarters of the 5,635 illegal aliens the INS apprehended on job sites have left this country, most of them to Mexico, they said.

INS Commissioner Alan Nelson said he was "very pleased" with the controversial effort, called "Project Jobs," which civil rights and Hispanic groups say violated the rights of illegal and legal aliens and fueled anti-Hispanic sentiments.

Nelson said he felt there was "a residual positive feeling" among the "great solid majority which doesn't speak out" toward the campaign, which targeted industries in nine U.S. cities in an effort to free jobs that would be attractive to Americans at a time of high unemployment. The INS notified local employment agencies of the job vacancies after each raid, officials said.

The aliens arrested came from 44 different countries, but 87 percent were from Mexico, said Joseph Salgado, associate commissioner for enforcement. Of the 4,908 Mexicans apprehended, 4,071 were returned to Mexico, he said.

The remaining illegal aliens captured claimed a legal right to remain in this country, and were either released on bond or held pending a hearing.

Arnoldo Torres, a spokesman for the League of United Latin American Communities, denounced "Project Jobs" as a "political hype" that had "created more problems and was doing no good for the purpose for which it was originated."

Torres said his organization disputed the INS' figures, and charged that many legal aliens were arrested wrongfully by the 400 INS agents who took part in the raids in Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Newark and Denver.

Salgado handed out a list of 17 job sites in seven of those cities. The list showed that more than 3,200 U.S. citizens had applied for at least 880 of the job openings. But Torres questioned whether that proved that the program was effective, because, he said, it is not known how many Americans took and remained in those jobs.

Nelson said there would be some follow-up to see how many Americans found work as a result of "Project Jobs," but that "The INS is not in the job-placement business." Some critics of the operation say they feel that without a serious follow-up survey no valid conclusions can be made about the inroads illegal aliens are making on jobs in this country.

Although there have been numerous complaints in the media about the raids, Salgado said that the INS has not received any complaints about brutality or violations of civil rights by its agents.

Salgado said the one death known to be connected to "Project Jobs" occurred when an illegal worker, a Mexican, fled from a poultry farm upon seeing INS agents in their cars.

"No INS employe was chasing him and no INS employe was even on foot" at the time, Salgado said. The man, apparently in a panic, ran onto a nearby freeway and into the side of a gravel truck.

INS officials said the project, which cost $500,000, was not timed to coincide with hearings on U.S. immigration law changes being held on Capitol Hill.

Nelson called the operation a "test of new techniques" in enforcement that could show the INS how to redirect its enforcement efforts to make them more effective.