IMMIGRATION: California Among Most Generous, Report Finds
California has been one of the most generous states in assisting legal immigrants in the wake of the 1996 federal welfare crackdown, according to an Urban Institute study that refutes the conventional wisdom of California as an anti-immigrant stronghold. California "did more to provide food, money and health care to affected legal immigrants than New York, Florida and Texas -- the three states with the largest numbers of immigrants after California," the Los Angeles Times reports. Still, citing California laws "targeting illegal immigrants, affirmative action and bilingual education," Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California said, "This is another example of the great ambivalence with which the public in California addresses one of the great social and economic changes ever in this state, which is the rapid immigration that has occurred over the past two decades." In a study of states between 1996-98, only California and Maine "created four key new programs for needy legal immigrants: food stamps, medical insurance, cash welfare for families, and cash aid for the elderly and disabled." California will give out more than $100 million in aid this year to legal immigrants.
Researchers explained the "surprising" finding by noting that the aid programs were "clearly targeted for legal immigrants" while the "outcry from [former Gov. Pete] Wilson and others focused on illegal immigration." Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D- Los Angeles) said that he and other architects of the aid programs "used Wilson's rhetoric about legal immigrants to force him to support programs for legal immigrants." The state's "large and increasingly powerful immigrant community and advocacy network ... are clearly being heard by the state Legislature and other policymakers," the report concluded, even though they "may not yet be affecting voter initiatives" like Prop. 187. The report also found that the "patchwork of federal and state policies" that remains in the wake of the 1996 welfare reforms "leav[es] many legal immigrants in need" (McDonnell, 6/7).