In an atmosphere that mixed celebration and consternation, a record number of applicants filed through Salt Lake's immigration legalization office Wednesday, bringing to a close the government's amnesty program for undocumented aliens.
The midnight deadline set off a last-minute rush at immigration offices around the country. While the crush wasn't as serious in the Salt Lake Immigration and Naturalization Service office, 2990 S. Main, the numbers helped the office beat all previous application processing records, said Allan C. Speirs, chief legalization officer."Yesterday we had 102, and that was a record. At latest count today, we had 126 applications," Speirs said.
Just minutes before midnight, about 20 people were left to be processed. A Tongan couple waited anxiously while friends went in search of a store that would take a check in exchange for a $185 money order required for the amnesty application.
One man told officials he couldn't pay until after he received his paycheck on Friday. He left to hunt for someone to lend him the money.
A few Hispanic families also waited for government workers to get to their applications. One woman was allowed to apply without arriving in person because she was in the hospital.
"A lot of people are so happy. But, I worry about people who are out of the program," who didn't come in to prepare applications. "Some didn't know until today it was the deadline," said Henry A. Alas, with a private organization helping process applications for Spanish-speaking people.
He said some Hispanics had planned parties to celebrate their amnesty.
However, Speirs estimated that only half of Utah's 20,000 to 30,000 undocumented aliens applied for amnesty.
Those who didn't apply "will be out of the country. They are not going to be able to get a job," Alas said.
Some 80 nations were represented among those making applications, most from Central and South America. Outside of the Hispanic population, Tongans were the largest ethnic group to register with the INS in Salt Lake City, Speirs said.
Natives of Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain also applied for amnesty.
The Wednesday deadline did not apply to aliens applying for legal status under the seasonal agriculture worker provision of the Immigration Reform Act. They have until Nov. 30.