YOU ARE HERE: IVPress HomeCollections

Latino leaders seek aid for immigrants

April 25, 2002|By MATT YOUNG

Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — As Congress works to renew the 1996 welfare law amid a flock of competing bills that propose a variety of changes to the law, top Latino leaders called on lawmakers Tuesday to approve a change that would give immigrants more benefits and help states in providing language services.

‘‘It's shameful that we have to ask this type of help from Congress that Latinos deserve,'' said Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, referring to welfare reform. ‘‘It's the 21st century and we haven't got it right yet.''

Currently, legal immigrants who entered the United States after 1996 are ineligible for welfare payments, Medicaid for five years and food stamps for 10 years. Immigrants granted citizenship are entitled to all benefits.


The Latino Coalition for Families, a Hispanic advocacy group, wants Congress to dump the time restrictions and extend benefits to ‘‘vulnerable'' undocumented immigrants such as pregnant women, domestic violence victims, the elderly and disabled people.

‘‘Most immigrants come to the U.S. to work and to be with their families, not for benefits,'' said Marisa Demeo, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. ‘‘Welfare programs should help all hardworking families.''

The Latino coalition also urged Congress to provide money for state-funded language services such as English-language classes.

‘‘The whole push of welfare is to get a job, and you have to speak English to get a job,'' said Ricardo Ortega, director of Calexico's Neighborhood House, which conducts English-language classes. Ortega said more welfare money could be used in Imperial County to buy computers for teaching English.

‘‘The more interactive (language programs) you get, the better, so they're not dull or dry or boring.''

The Latino groups have not had much success yet in getting congressional support, said Jimena Vasquez, legislative analyst for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. Even the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has yet to overtly support the coalition's efforts, she said

Of the many proposals being offered, Vasquez said, the measure sponsored by Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, would be most favored by Latino groups because it makes legal immigrants eligible for family assistance on the same basis as citizens.

Pat Fagan, a welfare expert from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said undocumented immigrants should not be given welfare benefits because the welfare law requires recipients to work and ‘‘I don't see how we can require work of an undocumented alien.''

After two years of receiving family welfare assistance, adults must participate in work activities. Fagan also disagreed with lifting time restrictions on benefits for legal immigrants, arguing that legal immigrants are required to have jobs to enter the country.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles