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Law tough on poor immigrants

A new federal analysis has found that an immigration law adopted last fall will make it much more difficult for poor and working-class immigrants to bring family members to the United States legally, especially Mexicans and Salvadorans, whose incomes are generally lower than those of other immigrant groups.

Congressional sponsors of the legislation _ which requires immigrants seeking to bring relatives here to meet income requirements and to make legally enforceable promises to support the newcomers _ say their intent was not to impose unfair burdens on immigrant families but simply to prevent them from becoming dependent on public aid.

Yet advocates for immigrants say that the law was really a back-door way to slash legal immigration in a year when Republicans in Congress failed to reduce immigration levels directly, and that it will needlessly divide hard-working husbands and wives from each other and their children.

The law, which is to go into effect later this year, requires immigrants sponsoring family members for admission to the United States to make at least 125 percent of the poverty level, or $19,500 for a family of four.

Under the old law, there was no income test for sponsors, just a requirement that incoming immigrants show they would not need public aid. In deciding whether to issue visas, consular officers at U.S. embassies overseas could consider whether prospective immigrants had jobs waiting, marketable skills, enough savings to support themselves or a sponsor.

Research sponsored by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and based on a random survey of 2,160 sponsors of family immigrants in 1994 found that about 3 in 10 of those sponsors had incomes below the new standard.