The number of illegal aliens arrested for criminal offenses has skyrocketed during the past year as a result of recent federal immigration legislation, according to experts in the field. ``The situation is desperate now,'' says Maritza Radbill, director of the Aliens Project at Concerned Citizens of Queens. ``The people that don't qualify for the amnesty program are out there robbing people right now. What else are they going to do?''
Ms. Radbill, who is from Ecuador, has been helping aliens apply for permanent resident status since the inception of the federal amnesty program in May 1987.
In 1986, New York City and its suburbs reported 794 major felony and drug arrests involving illegal aliens, says Allan Friess, a spokesman for the New York office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The following year, as employer sanctions and tougher work eligibility standards went into effect, that figure reached 1,011, despite fewer INS agents in the field.
John Wright, who helps direct investigations at the Washington INS office, says his office has seen a 27 percent increase in arrests from 1986 to 1987. At the present rate, he projects that arrests will increase an additional 35 percent in 1988.
The number of aliens who have passed through the INS Alien Criminal Apprehension Program nationwide has increased about 50 percent during the past year, from 12,000 in 1986 to 18,000 in '87, says Pat Comey, a senior agent with the INS.
``Those people who aren't eligible for amnesty don't just pack up and go home,'' explains the Rev. Frowell Ugalde, executive director of the Office of Migration at the Hunts Point Presbyterian Church in the Bronx. ``Instead, many of them find themselves out of work and unaware of the social services that are available to them. These are ... conditions that create delinquency in any community.''
Illegal aliens are constitutionally eligible for public education. In most areas they are also granted access to public health facilities.
In some areas like New York City, undocumented immigrants are eligible for all services not expressly forbidden to them by federal law. In New York, however, as tougher employment eligibility standards have gone into effect, there has been no noticeable increase in the demand for social services by illegal aliens, according to Elizabeth Bogen, director of the office of immigrant affairs for the Department of City Planning.
Ms. Bogen says illegal aliens use city hospitals ``only reluctantly'' and their overall demand for social services is ``not a major burden.''
In the border states, however, the demand for emergency food assistance and other services ``has definitely increased,'' according to Carmen Rodriguez, an administrator for the Austin, Texas, Neighborhood Centers.
Mr. Ugalde in New York now counsels illegal aliens on the services available to them, in addition to his other duties.
Jamal Ra, a recent immigrant from Jamaica, says he worked as a house painter until four months ago, when his boss fired him. Now he sells marijuana near Times Square.
``My boss was worried that the `immigration man' would catch him,'' Mr. Ra says, referring to INS sanctions against businesses that hire illegal aliens. ``I don't understand this. They don't let me work, and they don't send me home.''
In general, illegal aliens are not being deported. INS agents in Washington and across the country say that arresting people just for being in this country illegally has a low priority. The reason, INS agent Friess says, ``is that busting aliens is unpopular work. These days, we don't have time to deal with small offenders. We stick primarily to high-profile crime.''
In the past, fewer illegal aliens were involved in criminal activity, says Al Mayers, a community relations officer for the New York Police Department. ``It has been my experience that they like to keep a low profile,'' he says.
Both Friess and Duke Austin, an INS spokesman in Washington, say they do not believe the sudden jump in the alien crime rate during the last year is due to changes in immigration law, although neither offered another explanation.
Whatever the success of the federal amnesty program in locating applicants for resident status, there are still millions of people like Jamal Ra who have not been in the US since Jan. 1, 1982, and are not eligible for the program. Many of these people are not planning to go home.