The Immigration and Naturalization Service in Los Angeles appears to have won the confidence of the immigrant community by shifting away from its "border patrol mentality" and helping nearly 1 million eligible aliens gain temporary residence status, a Rand Corp. study has found.
In the past the INS, traditionally feared by illegal immigrants avoiding deportation, was the "cop on the beat, after the criminal," said Rand researcher Elizabeth Rolph, coauthor of the report released this week. In its new role, the INS has shifted to a client-centered approach, outreach campaigns and renewed assurances of confidentiality.
The report, "A Window on Immigration Reform: Implementing the Immigration Reform and Control Act in Los Angeles," examined the new law's two main provisions -- amnesty for illegal immigrants who resided in the United States before 1982 and penalties for employers intentionally hiring undocumented workers four years after its implementation.
"The INS did a surprisingly good job," coauthor and Rand researcher Abby Robyn said. "They obviously gained the confidence of the immigrant community."
The report found that of the 1.2 million eligible aliens in the Los Angeles area, 1.1 million applied for temporary residence status and nearly 1 million were accepted. Eighty-six percent of the immigrants applying for legalization applied directly through the INS.
"While we haven't seen a marked decrease in illegalization, it's not the fault of the employer sanctions program," Rolph said.
Counterfeit documents, underfunding of the agency and the law's "sunset" provision -- the program is terminated if employers discriminate as a result of the sanctions -- are deterrents to an effective program, the study found.
Employers sometimes use the law to discriminate against all immigrant workers, critics have argued. The INS is responsible for establishing guidelines that maintain immigrant worker rights while eliminating job opportunities for illegal immigrants.
The report said the law "has provided the basis for mounting a very successful legalization program in Los Angeles. However, it has not provided the same sound structure for mounting an employer requirements program capable of substantially limiting the flow of illegal immigrants into the country."
The researchers suggested providing adequate funding, improving work documentation and improving conditions in the countries immigrants come from.
In the long run, Robyn said, the decisive factor for immigrants will be whether they fit into the "American way of life," becoming citizens, bringing their families to the United States and meeting family education and health needs.