Immigrants never really had it real easy in this country


(re: “Leftist social programs haven’t worked, and won’t,” July 12)

The Point of View in your July 12 issue is long on conservative myths and short on facts.

Living in a city with a 40 percent immigrant population and a vibrant neighborhood where at least 45 languages are spoken in our homes is evidence of the success of our progressive domestic policies since 1965.

The five states with the lowest welfare benefits represent three of the five highest percentage of single-parent households. Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas are in the bottom five of benefits and top five of single-parent households. Idaho has the lowest benefits but has the fourth lowest percentage of single-parent households.

Tennessee rounds out the top five of lowest benefits, and is 28th in single-parent households.

Among developed nations, the average GDP and percentage of GDP spent on welfare programs is not as the essay wants us to believe. There is little direct correlation. Generally, developed nations have both higher GDP and a higher percentage of welfare spending. France has the highest percentage of welfare spending and the 20th highest GDP of 191 countries.

Finland second and 15th, Belgium third and 17th, Italy fourth and 26th, Denmark fifth and eighth. The United States is 21st in welfare spending, and ninth in average gross domestic product.

The social services and welfare benefits available to immigrants were severely limited by Bill Clinton’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, and remains so today. A provision of the act made immigrants entering the United States ineligible for federal welfare funds for five years after arriving in the United States.

The states were allowed to grant aid out of their own funds to address the welfare needs of immigrants for programs other than food stamps. In New York, hospitals are reimbursed by Medicaid for undocumented immigrants’ emergency room and hospitalization. Documented immigrants are eligible for some, but not all, benefits other New York State residents can receive.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani unsuccessfully sued President Clinton in 1997 because the law stipulated that only citizens and certain legal immigrants were to receive food stamps, and imposed financial penalties on states that did not verify the legal status of those applying for the food stamp program, now SNAP, benefits.

Similarly, the characterization of previous immigration policies is misleading. Immigration policy reflected the racial, ethnic and religious prejudices of our forefathers. Africans did not immigrate, they were chained and thrown on ships and then sold as property at slave auctions. Chinese workers were mistreated and abused on the west coast after the Civil War, and the Japanese were interned in camps during World War II.

During the 19th century, immigration laws were the province of state and local governments. The Irish Catholics escaping the British-imposed potato famine were able to legally live in New York and Boston, but were vilified by Protestant majorities, much as the Muslim and Hispanic people are today by the “millions of patriotic Americans who don’t feel guilty about being nationalistic,” noted in the essay.

Jews seeking to escape the Third Reich were turned away by America as possible communists or Nazi spies. Mexicans have been maltreated at our borders for generations. Italians faced discrimination in the 20th century.

Our country needs to stand up for the humane values our Judeo-Christian tradition teaches. “We the People” include all the residents of the United States, not just those of us with the good fortune of having been born here rather than in a country that cannot provide basic safety for its people.

The author is a retired deputy commission for the city’s human resources administration.

Stuart Eber,