We Must Honor the Legacy of Immigration
by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani
But less than two years ago, the passage of federal immigration reform legislation posed a major threat to this legacy, threatening the livelihood of legal immigrants across the United States. Despite the fact that immigrants work and pay taxes just like native-born Americans, the law made many legal immigrants ineligible for basic benefits, including federal food stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security Income.
We knew that these measures demanded an immediate response. That's why, over the last two years, working with immigrants' rights groups from across the country, we have mobilized to protect immigrants, especially children and the elderly, and to bring the nation to a broader and fuller understanding of the true value of immigration to our common heritage.
The City began by filing two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions in the federal laws. We established the Immigration Coalition, a cross-section of organizations united to mount a public education campaign against anti-immigrant initiatives. Last summer, we hosted the New York City Conference on Immigration, in which elected officials from across the country came to Ellis Island united by a belief in the value of immigration. And we started Citizenship NYC, setting up offices throughout the City to help immigrants navigate through the naturalization process. Since it began six months ago, Citizenship NYC has submitted over 4,000 applications to the Immigration and Naturalization Service - including the 128 men and women who became citizens this week.
Our effort is making a difference. Congress has since restored benefits to many immigrants, and it seems as if what had been a rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment is finally receding. But now we need to stay vigilant and commit ourselves to making more progress. For instance, the backlog at INS has to be addressed. Across the country, 1.7 million immigrants are waiting up to four years to naturalize. In New York City, the number of people caught in the backlog has increased to almost 300,000 and the average wait is 24 months. That's just unfair to the vast majority of immigrants who have paid their fee and played by the rules. Immigrants deserve a naturalization process that is fair, efficient and affordable. INS, which is trying to raise its naturalization fees, should not be allowed to do so until it redesigns its process so that it takes no more than six months from application to oath.
When we address this serious problem, we'll begin to reaffirm the true heritage of the United States and secure our future, for Americans and future Americans throughout the world.
Finally, today is the thirtieth anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We should all honor his great leadership - which, long after his death, still guides so many men and women - and the strides he made to fight injustice with peace and love.