Monday, April 22, 2013

Pressing Policy: Immigration Policy in The U.S.

As I've been working with a large immigration population during my internship at Nassau University Medical Center this semester, I have finally seen a firsthand account of the effects of the current battle within Congress over immigration reform. Immigration to the U.S, a country made and developed by immigrants, is a complex process defined by the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), which is the body of law currently governing immigration policy. But to better understand the American immigration policy let's look at some statistics from the Immigration Policy Center:

  • There is an annual worldwide limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants
  • There are 480,000 family-based visas available each year (this allows U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to bring certain family members to the U.S.)
  • There are more than 20 types of visas for temporary nonimmigrant workers, most temporary visas are for highly skilled workers or temporary workers who are sponsored by their employers
  • Permanent employment immigration has a limit of 140,000 per year
  • No group of permanent immigrants from a single country can exceed 7% of the total amount of people immigrating to the U.S. in a given year
  • Refugees are admitted to the United States based upon an inability to return to their home countries because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to their race, membership in a social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. The same goes for those seeking asylum in the U.S. and fear returning home
  • In order to qualify for U.S. citizenship, one must be a legal permanent resident (green card holders) for at least 5 years, have a basic knowledge of the english language, U.S. government and U.S. history 
So what is the debacle today? Congress, on the verge of reaching a bipartisan deal in the last week, (which could have helped create an avenue to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today!) has come to a roadblock following the bombing of the Boston Marathon by two Chechen immigrants. With national security at an obvious high, many politicians are calling for stricter immigration laws to avoid terrorist attacks following the tragic events of last Monday. 

As politicians make this an issue of national security, they are lacking the foresight to understand the economic and social importance of our immigrant population. To most Americans, immigrants are viewed as an added pressure to our welfare system, burdening American citizens who are suffering from poverty. According to a Reason-Rupe poll, a staggering 45% of American's believe immigrants come to the U.S. to reap government benefits. However, political blogger Shikha Dalmia explains, immigrants are actually helping to protect our existing social-welfare system. 

Dalmai's blog post entitled Don’t Believe What You’ve Heard About Immigrants and Welfare utilizes the following statistics: 

  • A 2006 analysis by the Texas comptroller estimated that low-skilled unauthorized workers cost the state treasury $504 million more than they paid in taxes in 2005. Without them, however, the state’s economy would have shrunk by 2.1 percent, or $17.7 billion, as the competitive edge of Texas businesses diminished.
  • A 2006 study by the Kenan Institute at the University of North Carolina found that although Hispanic immigrants imposed a net $61 million cost on the state budget, they contributed $9 billion to the gross state product.
Low-skilled foreigners receive the least amount of welfare aid (such as Food Stamps and public assistance) while providing low-wage employment that is vulnerable to abusive powers. By restricting these immigrants from a fair path to citizenship and rights within the U.S. we are stripping both the American economy and society from any means of progress. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Amazing Shrinking American Welfare System

The crushing blows of the Great Depression in the 1930's led to the creation of the American welfare system; a system that has transformed over decades of social and economic change. By the 1980's and 90's, policy makers were eager to make a change to the federal-based aid, hoping to cure American's of their plague of dependency. Rather than target the institution of poverty or the state which produced it, the state targeted the poor people themselves by reducing benefits and changing guidelines and restrictions to make it more difficult to receive assistance.

Bill Clinton's 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and introduced Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), an aid system that only allows families to be on 'roll' for 5 years. Sadly, even those families that are objectively eligible, receiving TANF is incredibly difficult.

Welfare reform reduced rolls by 59% (or about 7 million people). What was seen as a great success by politicians and policy makers was really just making those in poverty poorer without access to assistance. With the economic recession in 2008, poverty has only increased.

The reforms also targeted Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and disability aid, making eligibility more stringent and requiring types of documentation that is often difficult for those in poverty to obtain. The denial rate for homeless adults applying for SSI and SSDI is 80%,  and 70% for all initial general claims! But welfare benefits aren't the only thing shrinking, welfare employees are also dwindling, leaving offices overwhelmed with never ending cases and pressure to push recipients off the roll. With Congressional pressure to make welfare reforms following the sequester earlier this year it is only a matter of time before poverty reaches epidemic proportions in the U.S. We are no longer ending poverty, but feeding it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Health Leads: A New Approach to Social Work in Modern America

[Health Leads] is exactly the kind of social innovation and entrepreneurship we should be encouraging all across this country.

This semester I've had the privilege of working with Health Leads, an organization whose mission is to connect low-income families with resources they need to maintain and improve public health. In recent years the American economy has taken recessionary blows which have not only affected the American market but more importantly the American people. Those who are left by the wayside are unfortunately often those who need the most help, especially low-income families living in an unstable and inadequate welfare system.

The position I am in as an intern is a community Health Advocate. Health Leads desks are located in: Chicago, Baltimore, New York City, Boston, Providence and Washington D.C. My fellow advocates and I, all 11 of us, are the first group of students at a new desk at Nassau University Medical Center which opened in January 2013. The clients we assist have needs which include: food assistance (SNAP), cash assistance (TANF), medicare, healthcare, housing, immigration, childcare and adult education (ESL). Clients are referred to our desk by: resident physicians, nurses and social workers, flyering in waiting rooms and walk-ins. After an initial intake, advocates foster and maintain a relationship with their clients through weekly follow-ups and connecting families with resources.

The community and region surrounding and within Uniondale, NY is one of low-economic growth and stability, fleeting opportunities for employment and a growing population of undocumented migrants.
In wake of the sequester, the social welfare system has seen larger reforms and regulations which affect many of these families, especially women receiving WIC (Women Infant Care) assistance. Through the use of an interactive resource databases, such as 211 Long Island and Hite Site, advocates are able to not only create life changing experiences but better understand how much federal and state policies affect those living in our community.

To get involved visit Health Leads' website!
It's never to late to make a difference.