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The Role of Church Amnesty Assistance Programs in the Implementation of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act

Gayle K. Berardi


On November 6, 1986, President Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The legislation provides comprehensive changes in the country's immigration policies, primarily addressing the problems of illegal immigration. The act sets forth various employer sanctions associated with the hiring of undocumented immigrants, an amnesty program for the legalization of aliens and provisions for an active role for voluntary agencies in the implementation of the law. Under the law these agencies are defined as Qualified Designated Entities (QDEs). The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) entered into cooperative agreements with several hundred voluntary agencies representing, for example, local and community organizations, farm and labor associations, and churches. The responsibility of the QDEs included providing accurate information and assistance to undocumented immigrants seeking adjustment of their immigration status during Phase I of the implementation of IRCA.

Phase I of IRCA allowed for certain undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary resident status and later for permanent resident status. This phase ended in May, 1988. Phase II allows for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence when an applicant demonstrates an understanding of English and a knowledge of the history and government of the United States. An applicant who has resided in the United States for a period of eighteen months after the granting of temporary resident status may apply for permanent resident status.

This essay examines the role of the church-sponsored QDEs in deep east Texas involved in Phase I of the IRCA amnesty program. Specifically, the reasons for the inclusion of voluntary agencies in the amnesty program and their roles are described. In addition, problems encountered by the QDEs are explored and suggestions for their future role in the development and implementation of immigration programs are made. Church-sponsored agencies were selected because of their central importance in providing counseling to immigrants in the deep east Texas area. Apart from immigration attorneys, few other resources exist that can provide detailed information about IRCA.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229