Archives of Rudolph W. Giuliani
90th Annual Meeting of American Jewish Committee
Luncheon Keynote Address
Capital Hilton Hotel

Wednesday, May 7, 1997

The United States is unique in the world because its citizens are united not by a common religion, race or ancestry, but by a core of shared ideals and values.

Americans prize freedom, fairness, self-reliance, the open exchange of new ideas and the contributions of new peoples.

The very reason why this country exists is because of the desire and the ambition of new people who want to build a better life here.

More than any other American city, New York was built by the hands of immigrants, and continues to derive its strength from the active involvement of immigrants in our city's economy and culture.

There is no city more diverse than New York -- and I believe that accounts for our strength and our success. More than 200 languages, and variations of languages, are spoken in New York City.

Therefore, it's fitting that New York City -- the world's most diverse city -- has led the effort to defeat the tide of the anti-immigration sentiment that fueled the harsh changes enacted in both the welfare and immigration laws.

As Mayor of New York, I have traveled to Minneapolis... Boston... Washington, D.C. -- To highlight the positive contributions that immigrants have had for this country. Often I was one of only a few voices willing to speak for the many.

In attempting to appeal to reason and intellect rather than play to the fear and emotions of the American people, New York City has led the fight to uphold the sanctity of the core values upon which this country was built.

The U.S. accepts some 700,000 immigrants a year. We invite them here to create better lives for themselves and their families, and the overwhelming majority of immigrants take great advantage of their new opportunity.

In return for the privileges of American residency, immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes at the same rate as American citizens. But under the new laws, legal immigrants are denied SSI and food stamps benefits, and states have the option to refuse them other assistance programs and non-emergency health care.

Withholding these benefits from immigrants, who are here legally and whose taxes help pay for these very programs, is in my opinion, arguably unconstitutional given the broad and sweeping way it was done in this legislation.

During the past year, the City has led the fight against the anti-immigration sentiment seen in the legislation in Washington, D.C.

Last fall, the City filed two law suits against the Federal government challenging the constitutionality of these provisions.

On January 9th, 1997, I announced the establishment of the Immigration Coalition, a cross-section of prominent individuals and organizations including the American Jewish Committee that have worked together to mount a public education campaign that is working against anti-immigrant initiatives.

Members of the Immigration Coalition represent a wide range of racial, ethnic and religious communities dedicated to highlighting the important contributions made by immigrants and to speaking out against unfair welfare and immigrant policies.

After more than a year of lobbying, discussion and debate… it appears as if Congress and the President are taking a first step to restore benefits that unfairly target many immigrants.

As part of the Federal Budget Agreement announced this week, many of the immigrants, who were in the United States before August 22, 1996, and who were either receiving disability benefits at that time or became disabled at a later date, will be eligible for SSI.

This will be just a portion of what is needed to ensure that immigrants are treated fairly in the future. However, there are still many immigrants who will remain ineligible under the system. And the only way to ensure that they be treated the same way as everyone else, it to make sure they become naturalized citizens.

Traditionally, naturalization has been a long, often complicated process.

New York City is trying to help those individuals applying for citizenship and to work along with the federal government in making sure those who apply can get processed timely and efficiently.

New York City is trying to make this transition as easy and as streamlined as possible for immigrants.

As part of the overall effort to turnaround the attitude toward immigration in the United States, yesterday I announced a program called Citizenship NYC. The program is unique program and is the largest of its kind in the country...

Part of the reason for this program is to help those people currently at risk and to build a mechanism into City government for the future to guard against this kind of abuse in the future. As a result of the lobbying and hard work that was done, it appears that most of the people that were at risk will be helped.

Originally, we estimated that on August 22nd of this year 70,000 people in New York City receiving SSI benefits, many of whom are disabled and elderly, and about 130,000 people receiving food stamps, were going to be cut off.

In the budget agreement reached last week by the Senate, the House and President Clinton it looks as if it will preserve benefits for possibly as many as 70-80 percent of those immigrants on SSI.

Yesterday, I announced that the City will establish a comprehensive, multi-service outreach program to assist legal immigrants who may still be at risk of losing SSI and Food Stamp benefits and help them through the naturalization process. The program, known as Citizenship NYC, will target those who are still at risk of losing benefits.

As allocated in New York City's Executive Budget that I will present to the City Council tomorrow, the City will spend $12 million dollars to set up six offices in key locations throughout the City to help immigrants at every stage of the naturalization process.

The City will hire 100 people who will work at offices in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Their job will function in much the same way as a social service caseworker, reaching out to individuals who may be homebound, isolated, or simply not understand the process.

These workers will assist immigrants in everything from filling out application forms to fingerprinting to negotiating the complicated bureaucracy of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It is the caseworker's mission to make sure that this effort is professional and as efficient as possible.

The office will coordinate a comprehensive approach to help immigrants fulfill their dreams of citizenship.

We plan to produce a public education campaign to inform legal immigrants about their rights to become naturalized citizens and to encourage them to use the services under the program. Also, we plan to establish performance contracts with community-based organizations to provide immigrants with the requisite knowledge and skills to become citizens.

Through every stage of the process, we will be there to help these immigrants become citizens. Of course, the ultimate responsibility lies with the Federal Government, but the City will do everything it can to help make the process as easy as possible.

While the recent budget agreement seems to be a critical move in the right direction, it is not nearly enough. The agreement would not help new immigrants, nor would it restore food stamps for any immigrants.

If this Budget Agreement goes forward as it was written, as of August 22nd, 130,000 legal immigrants will be cut off from Food Stamps.

I recently came to Washington and met with Senator D'Amato and Majority Leader Lott to urge Congress to restore benefits to legal immigrants to delay the implementation of the new welfare and immigration laws.

This delay would also give immigrants the time needed to naturalize. While we may need to close the door on those who've violated our citizenship laws, we should keep the door open to those who have played by the rules and seek citizenship in the United States.

Although the budget deal restores some benefits to immigrants, many will continue to be treated unfairly. New immigrants could remain ineligible, creating a two tiered system. Because of this inequity, there is still much work to be done.

That is why June 9th and 10th, New York City will be hosting the New York City conference on Immigration. Local officials from all over the country will be joining me to discuss the effect of these new laws on immigrants.

As it has in so many other areas, such as crime reduction and welfare reform, New York City has led the country to a better and fuller understanding of the importance of immigration.

Each one of us owes so much to immigration. That's why anti-immigration movements always die out eventually. In the past we have always returned to the recognition that new Americans are good for our country. We realize that any effort to eliminate or unfairly burden immigrants could destroy the very process that is they key to American success.

New York City became the richest, most successful city in the country because of our constant process of re-evaluation and revitalization, a process driven by immigrants who want to create better lives for themselves and their children.

We are constantly being reinvented by the infusion of new people and new ideas into our city and our country. This process has come to define us as a nation. It makes us who we are today.

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