WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is spending $800,000 on an ad campaign to urge eligible Hispanic immigrants to sign up for a soon-to-expire legalization program.
Michael Garcia, acting commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) said Monday that his agency is buying radio and TV spots as well as street signs in Spanish to encourage more participants.
The program is "not a general amnesty," Garcia told a news conference.
An estimated 200,000 illegal residents who have been living continuously in the United States from 1982 through 1988 are qualified under the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act.
As of last October, only about 55,000 immigrants had filed for legal status under the law, which sets a June 4 deadline for applications. Garcia said that some applicants may have found other ways to obtain permanent residency status, but he acknowledged that some may be reluctant to come forward.
The public relations drive is the largest by the INS since the late 1980s, when more than 2.5 million illegal immigrants were granted legal status under a major amnesty law, an agency spokeswoman said.
For the Bush administration, the ad campaign is an opportunity to send a positive message to the fast growing Hispanic community.
Earlier, President Bush had floated plans to legalize millions of Mexicans and perhaps other nationals who are illegal immigrants. The idea was abandoned amid security concerns that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. U.S.-Mexico migration talks have stalled.
However, at the INS announcement Monday, the Mexican embassy sent its top migration official, Carlos Felix, to deliver a message in Spanish on behalf of the program.
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