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.