Commentary, TANF 20 Years Later

Punishing immigrants for being immigrants: Another component of U.S. welfare “reform” hits age 20

TANF-4002This is the third blog post in a series that will detail how lawmakers have weakened Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) over the past 20 years, explain why TANF is a cautionary tale rather than a model for other work and income support programs, and map out a better way forward.

Emma Lazarus’s 1883 poem, engraved on the Statue of Liberty welcoming the “poor, [the] huddled masses…the homeless” to America has never been reflective of a truly open stance toward the poor immigrants arriving at our shores. In fact, a year before Lazarus wrote her poem, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1882, banning immigrants who were likely to become “public charges” or drains on the system. We have historically welcomed the poor if they are here to work, but not if they need temporary government assistance to raise their families and become economically secure in a new country.

Undocumented immigrants and those coming over on most temporary visas have always been excluded from our safety net assistance programs such as cash welfare, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and public housing. But the 1996 welfare reform law brought a new level of restrictions that excluded millions of legal permanent residents from accessing welfare and other benefits. The 1996 law instituted a new “five year bar,” which states that even if a person has entered the country lawfully as a legal permanent resident, he or she is barred from receiving federal public benefits (including cash assistance, SNAP, and Medicaid) for the first five years of lawful status.

The 1996 law also bars millions of other lawfully present immigrants from receiving the vast majority of public benefits, because they do not fall into the very narrow definition of a “qualified” immigrant.  To give one example, immigrants from certain countries are granted Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) if their country suffers a major war, natural disaster, or other event that makes it impossible to return.  Some immigrants may live and work under this status lawfully for decades in the U.S., but they will never be eligible for federally-funded cash welfare, food assistance or Medicaid if they fall on hard times.

Many immigrants who need work and income supports are working immigrants—their language barriers and education levels often force them into jobs that don’t pay a living wage: domestic work, restaurant work, food processing, and seasonal work in agriculture or construction. Additionally, even immigrants who come here intending to work face unexpected life emergencies, like all of us. They may be laid off or be unable to find work, they may suffer health problems or become disabled, have children and need to stay home, or otherwise be unable to fully support themselves without temporary help that will allow them to make ends meet and regain their footing on the economic ladder. Immigrants in those circumstances who are not eligible for medical benefits may delay care until illnesses have progressed to a critical stage that is costlier to treat. Read more

Commentary

McCrory misleads on “Sanctuary Cities”?

Gov. Pat McCrory’s statements on so-called “sanctuary cities” are misleading, inaccurate and alarmist. While the Governor suggests that limiting participation in enforcement of federal immigration guidelines could protect violent criminals, the evidence is clear that the opposite is true.

Across the country, cities, counties, states and police departments have adopted policies that limit their participation in active enforcement of federal immigration laws. The reasoning behind these “limiting” policies is practical: Vigorous enforcement of immigration laws by local police became counterproductive. Victims or witnesses from the immigrant community are less willing to come forward and report crimes if they think their immigration status will be investigated.

The Columbia Journalism Review debunked concerns of sanctuary city critics effectively, noting that “such approaches — driven by concerns over local crime — hardly provide illegal immigrants with anything that could be reasonably called a ‘safe haven’ or sanctuary.'”

It is evident from his public pronouncements that Gov. McCrory is unclear on the meaning of the term “sanctuary city.” He loosely used the term to invoke fear of sanctuary cities when the term is used as a catch-all to describe different types of policies adopted in different cities.

One critical point: What it definitely does not mean is that people who are committing serious crimes such as drug trafficking cannot be arrested and put in jail. All observers agree on this point. All cities and states, whether sanctuary cities or not, have the right and duty to enforce state and local criminal laws and to keep their citizens safe. Gov. McCrory should cease using inaccurate and alarmist rhetoric that suggests otherwise.

As the Columbia Journalism Review put it, “‘Sanctuary city’ is … impossible to define in a meaningful way, and broadly inapplicable to what is happening with immigration in American cities. It is exactly the kind of rhetoric that we need the press to take apart and explain — clearly and repeatedly — all the ways it is misused.”

Regardless of definitions, however, policies that encourage victims of crime and witnesses to come forward and cooperate with the police in keeping their communities safe should be encouraged by reasonable parties on any side of the immigration debate. Ultimately, meaningful federal immigration reform is the best way to allow state and local officials to spend less time worrying about the immigration status of those they encounter, and more on the day-to-day work of investigating and prosecuting crimes. But until federal reform arrives, municipal policies that encourage all community members to feel comfortable communicating with the police are one way to improve community safety.

Uncategorized

Why John Boehner’s excuse for blocking immigration reform doesn’t hold water

Immigrants ICEHouse Speaker John Boehner’s most recent delay tactic in preventing passage of an immigration reform bill has been to state that Republicans have “widespread doubt about whether [the Obama] administration can be trusted to enforce our laws.”  As anyone paying attention to the immigration debate is aware, this is a ridiculous statement—the Obama administration has steadily increased the number of deportations conducted compared to previous administrations.  The most recent statistics show that almost 420,000 immigrants were deported in fiscal year 2012, more immigrants deported in a single year by any president.

A recent essay in the D.C. news website The Hill by a retired immigration judge makes a powerful argument against that ridiculous claim.  Retired Judge John Gossart, Jr. remarks:

“In my thirty-one years as a United States immigration judge, I have never had as many people come through my courtroom as I have over the last six years. During this time, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of non-citizens that the United States detains and deports, and the detained number of individuals appearing in immigration courts today is unprecedented. Read more

Uncategorized

Fate of Alabama anti-immigrant law a lesson for NC and other states

Immigrants ICEA recent court settlement in Alabama should serve as a warning to North Carolina legislators who still seek to pass anti-immigrant laws. Alabama agreed to settle two law suits brought against it after the passage of its harsh anti-immigrant law, HB 56, in 2011.  Both immigrants’ rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice sued Alabama over different parts of the law, and both those suits settled last week.

Previously many of the harshest provisions of the Alabama law had already been temporarily blocked by courts, and in the new settlement, Alabama agreed that those provisions would never go into effect, including a provision requiring public schools to verify the immigration status of students, and one preventing all contracts with undocumented immigrants. The permanent blocking of those harmful provisions is a huge victory for immigrants in Alabama and across the nation.

Most of the parts of the law that are now permanently blocked in Alabama never made it into North Carolina’s omnibus immigration bill, HB 786, which was proposed in 2013.  However, several provisions in Alabama’s law were identical or similar to those proposed here, and their fate in this recent settlement should be of interest to state lawmakers.

North Carolina legislators, for example, Read more

Uncategorized

Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill heard in NC House committee (video)

A North Carolina House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the “RECLAIM NC” Act today, an Arizona-style immigration bill sponsored by Rep. Harry Warren and 13 others (including a key member of Speaker Thom Tillis’ leadership team, Rep. Ruth Samuelson). The proposal includes a raft of anti-immigrant provisions, including making it harder for undocumented immigrants to post bond for minor criminal offenses, requiring them to pay for their own incarceration time, and making it easy to seize and impound cars of people caught driving without insurance or a proper license. 

The bill also includes the odd and controversial twist of “requiring” all undocumented immigrants to register for a “restricted driving permit,” which would not the same thing as a driver’s license. Representative Warren claims that the driver’s permit requirement is intended to make all drivers safer by identifying folks who are driving on state roads.  This claim is belied, however, by the fact that bill: a) requires undocumented immigrants to register for a state ID card even if they have no intention of driving at all, and b) excludes many people from obtaining the driving permit at all.

Probably the most telling moment of this morning’s hearing was when the committee discussed the “show me your papers” provision, and Representative Rick Glazier asked  Warren how a law enforcement officer could form a “reasonable suspicion” that someone was in the country without papers. Watch the exchange here:

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As you can see, Read more