Internet resources for what you need to know about NYC Immigrants
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
Immigrants are foreign-born people and their families who enter the United States and settle. This is a catch-all phrase that usually includes everybody from the U.S-born children of foreigners to naturalized citizens to the undocumented.
The Context
New York owes much of its growth and character to its traditional role as the point of entry and settlement for immigrants from all over the world. The city may now be experiencing the largest wave of immigration in its history, with immigrants and their children making up to as much as 60 percent of the city's population. Most of today's immigrants come from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the former Soviet Union and are, for the most part, younger and darker than immigrants from the past. While the federal government sets overall immigration policy, state and local policy directly affects immigrants on a wide range of issues, from education to health care to political representation.
The Reporter
An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Immigration.

By Chaleampon Ritthichai

Welfare Reform And Immigrants

To petition for his wife's permanent resident status or green card, Tom Gaubert has to prove that he is employed and has income twice above poverty line.

"They want to make sure that my wife won't marry me to be on welfare," said Gaubert, citing one of the many consequences of the 1996 Welfare Reform.

Hailed by many as the most successful policy from the Clinton administration, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act cut welfare rolls in half and saved the government billions of dollars.

However, the welfare reform also eliminated most benefits available to legal immigrants and left millions of low-income immigrants without a social safety net.

"Despite their poverty, non-citizens accounted for a disproportionately large share of the overall decline in welfare caseloads that occurred between 1994 and 1997," said Professor Jeff Passel at a forum entitled "Immigrants and the Impact of Welfare Reform," at New School University.

According to a study by the Urban Institute, "How Are Immigrants Faring After Welfare Reform," immigrants who came after August 1996, the period when welfare reform went into effect, are generally poorer than those who arrived earlier.

Out of 1,200 immigrant families surveyed in New York City, 30 percent live with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level and 61 percent have low incomes (below 200 percent of the poverty level).

Even with the 1990s robust economy and the high employment level, adult immigrants had lower income because they were more likely to take low-wage-jobs and often lacked English skills needed for better paying jobs.

"So what do we do? Hit immigrants with a bigger stick," said Columbia University Professor Neeraj Kaushal, referring to the cut in public assistance.

Half of the families who had received food stamps before the passage of the welfare law in 1996 had lost those benefits and over a third of immigrant families with children--often American citizens--experienced food insecurity.

"There is always a spillover when the benefits are cut because most immigrants are in mixed-status families. Some are citizens and some are not," said Passel.

More than one third of non-citizen adults in New York City also lack health insurance coverage because immigrants usually do not have job-based insurance as do most native citizens.

"Last year when I lost my job we both lost our health insurance," Gaubert said

To alleviate the problem, many state governments stepped in and offered to restore some benefits to legal immigrants.

The New York State Court of Appeals ruled last year that the denial of Medicaid to legal immigrants was unconstitutional and violates state and federal guarantees of equal protection under law. By one estimate, the ruling could make 100,000 immigrants in New York eligible for full Medicaid benefits.

Eighteen other states also offer benefits similar to those of pre-1996 welfare reform to legal immigrants.

Following the footsteps of these state governments, last month the U.S. House of Representatives reauthorized the 1996 welfare reform law with the provisions that would restore food stamp and some public assistance to legal immigrants

Five Favorite Sites For Beginners:

  • Immigration and Naturalization Service, the federal agency (within the United States Department of Justice) that provides services to immigrants (answering questions, processing applications for visas and for citizenship, etc.) and at the same time enforces the nation's immigration laws. INS also has a New York City district office and the New York Asylum Office
  • The New York City Mayor's Office Of Immigrant Affairs and Language Services, assists immigrants in a range of services and information. Here you can link to information about, for example, the New York Police Department New Immigrant Unit, where specially trained police officers conduct sensitivity training in the precincts and at the police academy, lecture at meetings of immigrant groups and work with the ethnic media. (212) 374-5112
  • Citizenship NYC, a city program, assists immigrant recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and federal food stamps to become citizens. (888) 374-5100
  • New York Immigration Hotline - open 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday and providing free and confidential information in 15 languages (Arabic, Bengali, French, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu) about everything from immigration law to employment discrimination to health referrals to a list of non-profit agencies that assist immigrants. (718) 899-4000
  • National Immigration Forum, a national pro-immigration advocacy group, with a rundown of facts about immigration, current issues, useful links.
  • Genealogical Resources in the New York Metropolitan Area, published by The Jewish Genealogical Society, for those wishing to do research on their immigrant ancestors.

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