As the deadline approached for filing labor certification applications, rumors of the Immigration and Naturalization Services using the information to create a "hit list" of illegal aliens working on Kentucky farms and racetracks had many who could benefit from certification choosing not to file.
The application for labor certification is part of a three-step process for achieving citizenship under section 245(i) of the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act.
Rumors began circulating after the INS filed an open records request with the Kentucky Racing Commission to obtain the number of applications that have been processed.
"It's a matter of information they were looking for, I think," said Bernie Hettel, executive director of the racing commission. "They just wanted a head count of how many of these documents were in the pipeline for process. The number is about 125 people."
Hettel said it was his understanding, based on conversations with the INS, that the information on the applications would not be used to punish those who choose to file. "It's a developing situition," he said. "Within a control factor, it's pretty comfortable. It's my understanding that the INS will not use the information."
Bing Bush Jr., an equine attorney who assisted with the filings of labor certifications in Kentucky and California, said filing for labor certification offered no protection from INS raids, but the purpose of the program was not to become an INS "hit list."
The LIFE Act, signed into law by President Clinton on Dec. 21, allowed qualifying illegal aliens to stay in the United States while their applications for permanent residency are pending. Those immigrants do have to pay a $1,000 penalty at the completion of the immigration process, but without the permission, they run the risk of being sent back to their home countries and being barred from returning to the U.S. for up to 10 years.
The law, which temporarily reinstated a part of immigration law known as section 245(i), which originally expired in 1998, applies to those people who were in the United States on Dec. 21 and whose applications were filed by April 30.
"Filing this application does not grant the illegal alien amnesty," said Tom Perryman, acting officer in charge of the Louisville branch of the Immigration and Naturalization Services.