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Amnesty bill causes rush to the alter

Candida Guzman of the Dominican Republic had long sworn off marriage, but with the April 30 deadline fast approaching to file for a special green card amnesty, the 39-year-old found herself nearing matrimony. Slowly.

Standing in a long line of applicants at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens Tuesday, Guzman, her fiancé George and about 200 others had been waiting since 5:30 a.m. for a marriage license. Guards in the Borough Hall lobby said the line has been that way every day for months.

The new federal regulation, 245(i), provides an amnesty window from Dec. 21 to April 30, and allows American citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor spouses and family members if the person was in the United States on Dec. 21, the day the law was signed into effect by President Clinton.

Elected officials are urging those who qualify to submit their applications before the window closes. Gov. George Pataki announced the launch of a public service campaign on ethnic television stations to alert those who are eligible. The broadcasts were recorded in English, Greek, Haitian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Russian and Spanish and were scheduled to air the first week of April.

But many Queens residents who have asked about the provision have found themselves tangled in the intricacies of the new green-card law.

“Most problematic is knowing who can sponsor the person,” said Veronica Thronson, director of training and legal services at the New York Immigration Coalition.

The law covers two categories of sponsors: U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. The problems arise when the two categories and their varying rules are confused.

A green-card holder can only sponsor a spouse or an unmarried child of any age, while a U.S. citizen can sponsor a spouse, children of any age, parents and siblings.

“A lot of people who are legal permanent residents are applying for siblings and they cannot do that,” Thronson said.

To ease the congestion of last-minute applicants, Pataki, who set up a citizenship unit to help immigrant communities understand the law, has also pressed for a six-month extension of the law by the federal government.

His proposal was introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Nassau) and was sponsored by several Queens legislators, including U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), and Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills).

Activists for immigrants welcomed the proposed extension, but, with Congress’ Easter-Passover recess, few expect that the bill will come to a vote until well after the April 30 deadline has passed.

For more information or to attend a local workshop on the immigration law, call 718-899-4000.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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