Lawrence J. Siskind, who heads the Justice Department office charged with enforcing the antidiscrimination provisions of the immigration law, said his office has been conducting an aggressive "outreach" program designed to publicize its existence.
"Anyone who can get to any governmental office connected with immigration or civil rights should be able to find out how to contact us," Siskind said, noting that information packets have been sent to offices of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and to U.S. Attorneys' offices across the country. "We're only a telephone call away."
But Janet Kohn of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said those who feel they have been discriminated against would be able to find the office only "by pure luck."
Telephone calls to EEOC, INS and U.S. Attorneys' offices here and in New York and California -- the two states that have accounted for 88 percent of the complaints filed with Siskind's office -- found that only one of 12 offices contacted was aware of the Justice Department office, and that office did not have its toll-free number.
Calls asking what an individual should do if he believed he had been fired or not hired because he was not a U.S. citizen produced an imaginative array of mostly incorrect solutions.
New York EEOC office: "I can't give you to anyone right at this point . . . . Go to the city human rights commission."
New York U.S. Attorney's office: "Did you call the immigration? . . . . File a complaint. You can go to the courthouse to the pro se clerk to make a complaint."
New York INS office: "The only thing I could think you could possibly do is call the investigations office." The investigations office then informed the caller that it only investigates cases of illegal aliens. "Honestly, miss, I really don't know," said a worker there.
District EEOC office: "Contact the Labor Department."
District U.S. Attorney's office: The caller is referred to the grand jury intake section. "It wouldn't be this office," said an employee there. "I wouldn't know what office to call . . . . You need to check with the personnel office where you applied . . . maybe the Office of Personnel Management or something."
District INS office: A caller cannot get through to the regional office in Arlington, which plays a tape that offers no information on the antidiscrimination provisions. At the investigations section there, an employee suggests, "Contact EEO or somebody or hire a private investigator . . . or maybe look in the phone book under civil liberties."
Justice Department: The caller is told to call the INS, whose number is repeatedly busy. Asked if there were not a special office in the Justice Department to handle such charges, the operator said, "You have to start with INS."
San Diego EEOC: The caller is informed that EEOC could handle the case if the employer had 15 or more employees but that otherwise the federal government can do nothing. In fact, the immigration law broadened existing provisions barring discrimination on the basis of national origin to cover employers with four or more employees.
San Diego U.S. Attorney: The caller is referred to a paralegal. "There are discrimination laws but I don't know if that particular item is necessarily within the law." The caller is referred to the state fair employment agency.
San Diego INS office: Success at last. An employee offers the EEOC toll-free number and the long-distance number and address of Siskind's office. Asked if that office had a toll-free number, she said, "No, unfortunately, they don't."