LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 11 -- A group of Roman Catholic priests and nuns vowed today not to comply with the new immigration law's requirement that they prove their workers are legally in the country.

"We committed ourselves to hire workers regardless of their legal status. Therefore, we are refusing to comply with the I-9 form," said the Rev. Tom Smolich, spokesman for the group of 53 that represents more than 20 churches in the Los Angeles diocese.

The group also is seeking jobs for non-qualifying workers by encouraging parishes and other institutions to hire undocumented workers.

The action is similar to efforts of many U.S. churches to protect Central American refugees by granting them "sanctuary" inside church buildings. Federal agents have shown reluctance to enter churches in search of illegal aliens even though the ancient right to sanctuary is not recognized in federal courts.

Under the new immigration law, which offers amnesty to illegal aliens who have been in the country since 1981, employers are required to maintain a document, called an I-9 form, attesting that their employes are citizens, legal residents or illegal aliens seeking amnesty.

The California Roman Catholic group contends the new law will split families when only one member qualifies for amnesty. The group also believes the law denies political asylum to those who have fled oppressive regimes in Central America.

"The right to control one's borders is in conflict with the rights of people to live without fear of war, to live without fear of starvation. People have the right to support themselves and families. Those human rights take precedence," Smolich said.