State Journal-Register


INS mixes up Chicago ZIP codes 


WASHINGTON With great fanfare, the immigration service last month offered more than 450,000 undocumented immigrants a second chance to become lawful residents.

The second chance came as a consequence of three class-action suits alleging that the Immigration and Naturalization Service hadn't given them a fair shot at green cards issued under a massive 1986 amnesty.

Now with applications coming in much slower than expected, an INS snafu has surfaced that might be undermining the agency's effort to undo its past mistake: It has been giving applicants the wrong ZIP code.

On Thursday, INS officials began scrambling to fix the ZIP-code error on fact sheets, press releases and the agency's Web site. A spokeswoman for the agency insisted it was only a minor setback.

Applications were supposed to be mailed to the INS at a post office box in Chicago. Since the incorrect ZIP code also was for the Chicago area, postal authorities directed most of the mail to INS offices, including the district office in Chicago, said INS spokeswoman Elaine Komis.

"We assume there's going to be one or two-day delays while the post office reroutes the mail to the INS," said Komis. "We haven't heard of any application returned; so far as we know, nobody has been inconvenienced."

But immigration advocates criticized the agency.

"It's really ridiculous," said Angela Kelley of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigration group based in Washington.

"This is an example in which the agency is supposed to provide services for people, and yet is so incapable of keeping track of the most basic things."

The agency recently uncovered the clerical error while processing applications for green cards under the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (LIFE).

Komis said the "contractor made the mistake," but could provide no details about the contractor.

The agency began taking the LIFE applications June 1, and the volume has not met expectations, although no details were immediately available on how much lower than expectations the volume was, Komis said.

Eligible applicants were represented by three separate class-action lawsuits that challenged the INS' implementation of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law resulted in amnesty for 2.7 million undocumented immigrants.

"We haven't been getting a lot of applications," Komis said. "Maybe they haven't gotten all the material together yet to get these out. These kinds of things there's always a last-minute rush."

The clerical error was not a factor in the number of applications received, Komis said. "We think these are two separate issues," she said.

The deadline for the so-called LIFE Legalization program benefits is May 31,