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Poll: Most support aid for legal migrants

June 10, 2002|By SAUMYA ROY

Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Most Americans think legal immigrants should get the same welfare benefits as other Americans, according to a new poll commissioned by an advocacy group for low-income immigrants.

The poll, which showed 67 percent of Americans want welfare benefits to be extended to immigrants, is likely to bolster efforts of immigrant groups lobbying to extend welfare benefits to legal immigrants through the welfare reform legislation pending before the Senate Finance Committee.

Among respondents from Western states, 73 percent said they support such a measure.

According to a poll commissioned by the National Immigration Law Center, when respondents were told legal immigrants pay the same taxes as American citizens but do not get access to welfare benefits, support for the measure went up to 79 percent.

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‘‘There is nothing more American than paying taxes,'' said one of the poll's respondents.

The nationwide telephone poll of 1,000 possible voters was conducted in May by Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates, a polling agency that works with nonprofits and Democratic candidates.

Welfare benefits for immigrants were cut in the 1996 welfare reform law. A proposal to restore benefits was not included in the welfare bill that passed in the House and lobbyists now hope it will be part of the Senate version of the bill, which the Finance Committee likely will consider next week.

Rini Chakraborty, project director with the California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative, said such federal support would help California, which is one of few states providing basic health services to immigrants.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said restoring welfare benefits to immigrants was the most important part of the Senate bill. Clinton has proposed one of several measures to partially extend such benefits to immigrants.

But Michael Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said such a move is unlikely to pass in the Congress.

‘‘There is a general hostility toward immigrants in Congress. The have given food stamps to immigrants but they are unlikely to go beyond that,'' Tanner said.

He said while it is hard to judge public opinion on immigration, there is some hostility to foreigners and immigrants because of the Sept. 11 attacks on the nation and because immigrants consume local services.

Margie McHugh of the New York Immigration Council said the need for welfare benefits became more acute after Sept. 11 because low-income immigrants had borne the brunt of the job losses since then.

Chakraborty said English education should be an integral part of welfare legislation for immigrants because ‘‘a disproportionate number of immigrants who will get off welfare rolls in California will not know English. We need to educate these people so that they can get better paying jobs and be self sufficient.''

A majority of the respondents to the poll, conducted in May, support public benefits for victims of domestic violence and prenatal care for mothers irrespective of their immigrant status.

But Tanner predicted the benefits won't be part of the final version of the bill.

‘‘At a time when budgets are spread quite thin, immigrants are not a priority,'' said Tanner.

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