Hot Topic (6/13): Benefits for children of illegal immigrants
All Things Considered, April 15, 2009 · Children living in immigrant families are more likely to be poor than those whose parents were born in the U.S. But these same children are far less likely to receive public benefits — even though most of them were born in the U.S. and are citizens. This has some people worried about the welfare of one of the nation's fastest growing groups — the citizen children of immigrants.
Adriana, who did not give her full name because she is in the country illegally, recently came looking for help at CASA de Maryland, a nonprofit agency outside Washington, D.C., that assists immigrants. At the time, Adriana, 21, was a few days away from giving birth to her third child. She already had two little boys, ages 1 and 3, and their father had left them months before. And she was homeless.
Adriana and her children had been sleeping in the streets, but the night before, strangers took them in after seeing them out in the near-freezing cold. As Adriana spoke, her youngest son ran around the room, swinging his bottle. He wore one-piece pajamas over a turtleneck shirt. She looked tired and worn.
"She says, 'Today I really need somebody to help me out because the family who helped me yesterday — they can no longer help me, and I have no place where to sleep with my kids tonight,' " said intake specialist Elizabeth Flores, who translated Adriana's Spanish.
Flores said the young woman tried to get housing, food stamps and medical help at local social service agencies. But without a passport, proof of residency or birth certificate for one of her sons, she was having little luck.
"She's living nowhere, so basically she has no address," Flores said. "So they told her she cannot apply."
A Complicated Case
Adriana's case is complicated by the fact that she's an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Her children were born in the U.S., but like many citizen children of immigrants, they don't receive the public assistance for which they're eligible.
There are many reasons for this. Some, like Adriana, don't have the necessary paperwork or are confused by the requirements because they don't speak English. Flores says many immigrants in the country illegally also worry about contacting any government agency, even if it's to help their children.
"They don't feel comfortable going there," she said. "They are afraid because they have no documents."
That is a common problem, said Jonathan Blazer, a public benefits policy attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. Blazer said undocumented immigrants are not supposed to be reported to immigration authorities when they apply for benefits for their citizen children. In fact, the Agriculture Department, which administers the food stamp program, basically makes that point in its brochures.
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What do you think about the children of illegal immigrants receiving benefits in the United States?
Did you realize that "undocumented immigrants" are not supposed to be reported to immigration authorities when they apply for benefits for their citizen children?