Thousands rally to restore welfare to legal immigrants Senate hears concerns expressed on Capitol Hill


WASHINGTON -- Several thousand people rallied on Capitol Hill yesterday, urging Congress to restore welfare and disability benefits for legal immigrants who have not become citizens. The Senate took a first step to address the concerns that prompted the rally.

By unanimous consent, the Senate endorsed a measure declaring that "elderly and disabled legal immigrants who are unable to work should receive assistance essential to their well-being." Further, it said, "the president, Congress, the states and faith-based and other organizations should continue to work together toward that end."

The declaration, expressing "the sense of the Senate," originated in a proposal by Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat. But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi offered a substitute, which was adopted by the Senate.

The resolution does not provide money or alter the 1996 welfare law, which made noncitizens ineligible for many types of federal aid. But it does suggest that lawmakers are coming under political pressure to soften the most stringent provisions of the law affecting immigrants.

Earlier yesterday, several Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in saying they would try to relax the restrictions imposed on benefits for immigrants last year.

Sen. John H. Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said they would soon introduce legislation to preserve disability benefits and food stamps for legal immigrants who were receiving such assistance before Aug. 22, 1996, when President Clinton signed the welfare bill.

Republican representatives such as Susan Molinari and Peter T. King of New York and Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut have signed up as co-sponsors of a separate bill to allow food stamps and Supplemental Security Income benefits for legal immigrants who became disabled after entering the United States.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican who was born in Cuba and represents many Cuban-Americans.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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