Armando Reyes bided his time for nearly a year, waiting for the immigration service to reveal that its amnesty program was just a cruel trick. But, facing the deadline, Reyes took his place in line to sign up.
The Mexican-born Reyes and thousands of others jammed lines outside and inside U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service offices nationwide Monday as the clock ticked toward Wednesday's midnight deadline for applying for amnesty and the right to become a U.S. citizen.By Monday, 1.2 million people had signed up under the program in the Western region, said Harold Ezell, INS western regional commissioner. Two million were expected to sign up nationwide, he said.
When asked on the NBC "Today" show why so many aliens had waited until the last minute, Ezell said, "Same reason that you didn't file your income tax until, like me, four o'clock on the fifteenth of April. Procastination is the biggest problem that we all face. And the illegal alien is no different."
In Miami, applicants lined up two days in advance to be assured help Monday morning. In Houston, they brought lawn chairs, ice chests and toys for the long wait. In Los Angeles, aliens conceded they had been putting it off, but now there was no time left for procrastination.
"I was afraid before, but now there's no more time to be scared," Reyes said, as he stood outside the Wilshire Boulevard office in Los Angeles, ready to apply for himself, his wife and two daughters.
"A good friend says it's not a trick, and now I realize I have to think of my family."
Reyes, 39, a janitor who came to the United States in 1978 from Aguas Calientes, said he easily assembled the papers needed to prove his family had lived here since Jan. 1, 1982, as required by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
One of the authors of the legislation was in Los Angeles on Monday, and he sought to reassure those hoping for a life in the United States.
"Wednesday night at 12 o'clock we will take anyone in the line, all over the United States," said Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., who donned an ornate sombrero. "(They) will receive status in the United States that removes them from a fearful subculture of human beings."
In Miami, aliens began lining up as much as two days in advance in front of the Biscayne Boulevard office, agency spokesman Ray Dudley said.
"We had 600 people out there this morning," Dudley said Monday. "It wasn't healthy. We have no restroom facilities on the weekend, we have traffic problems, and and it's a danger to people."
Thousands of undocumented aliens queued up Monday outside the Houston INS office. At least 2,000 camped out Sunday night. One woman stood holding her baby in one arm and in the other, clutching amnesty documents that were longer than the infant.