On March 20, I had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., to discuss a very important issue with leaders of the United States Senate, including Senator D'Amato.
And that issue is the harmful effect that the new federal welfare and immigration laws will have on New York City's legal immigrants, in particular, older people and disabled people.
The new immigration and welfare laws recently passed by Congress and signed into law by the President contain provisions that unfairly target legal immigrants already in the United States.
On August 22 -- unless something is done -- legal immigrants who receive SSI benefits; who are disabled; who are in wheelchairs; who are blind, and who are elderly, are going to be cut off immediately at that point from benefits by the federal government.
More than 68,000 immigrants in New York City are expected to lose SSI eligibility and another 130,000 people will lose eligibility for food stamps.
Withholding benefits from these very vulnerable immigrants who are here legally and who have paid taxes like you and me, and whose taxes have helped to pay for these very programs, is in my opinion unfair and possibly unconstitutional.
The federal welfare and immigration laws will affect the lives of families who have already immigrated here and have built lives for themselves in the United States. It's unreasonable and unfair for the federal government to suddenly change the terms under which these immigrants were accepted by the federal government into this country. It's like changing the rules in the middle of the game.
What the federal government wants to pass off as immigration reform is really just a shifting of massive costs from the federal government to large cities and states. Seventy-five percent of the cost of these laws will be shouldered by only four states -- California, New York, Florida and Texas.
So what can we do about this? To cure the inequities in the federal welfare and immigration laws, we recommend several immediate measures:
Congress should amend the legislation to grandfather into SSI benefits all the legal immigrants here as of August 22, 1996, which is the date on which this law passed.
It would also be useful to delay the implementation of the new welfare and immigration laws as they apply to legal immigrants for at least one year. This would give states and cities across the country the time to sort out the problems of this massive cost-shift to provide humane and decent treatment for people, and to provide a necessary transition.
The one-year delay would also give the federal government the chance to give the Immigration Service the kind of resources that it needs to expedite people becoming citizens. And also to focus its attention on those people who are here illegally who are committing crimes.
Unfortunately, the whole thrust of the federal immigration reform is to put the emphasis not on the people committing crimes, not on the people who are drug dealers, who are in state and city prisons, but instead to put the emphasis on people who are working, people who have children in school, people who are disabled.
Throughout our history, immigration has always proven to be a powerful force for growth and progress in this country. Yes, there are problems that come with immigration and they need to be addressed, especially with regard to illegal immigration.
And what we look forward to is the federal government, rather than ignoring the criminal illegal immigrants who are in prison and letting them stay there in the thousands, instead putting their focus on those individuals and helping us in an area in which they have given us very little help.
The federal government should not be scapegoating people who are among the most vulnerable, who are the poorest, who are people trying to do a good job and because of difficulties and problems in their lives, need some help. We should be looking for humane and for decent solutions.