The law, called the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act, which President Clinton signed Dec. 21, in effect allows certain illegal immigrants to pay a $1,000 fine and remain in the U.S. while applying for their green cards instead of returning to their home countries.
The law extends the deadline for qualifying to stay under those conditions to April 30, which the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates could benefit 300,000 people.
For a visa applicant to qualify, a family member or employer must submit an immigrant visa petition or labor certification in the person's name on or before April 30.
The new law's benefits include convenience and a chance for families to stay together. Without it, illegal immigrants who wanted to apply for permanent residence were ordered to return to their home countries for at least three years, and in some cases as long as 10 years, which often tore families apart.
‘‘This demonstrates to me that the Congress and the former … administration are really pro-family, because that is what was being stressed with this law,'' said Curiel.
The INS' San Diego field office, which serves Imperial County, has received 95 applications since Jan. 1 for permission to stay in the country while visa requests are processed.
The office has been swamped by long lines of people wondering whether they qualify, officials said.
‘‘Get good advice before you try to file something,'' said Lauren Mack, an INS spokeswoman. ‘‘Don't wait in that long line needlessly.''
An informational session about the new law last week offered by Imperial County's Catholic Charities immigrant services drew about 40 people. Another meeting is scheduled for today at 3.