Thousands of illegal aliens here are sending their children to public schools, using municipal hospitals and receiving welfare benefits while often paying minimal taxes and sending large amounts of money abroad.
A 10-week investigation by The New York Times also shows that many of the estimated total of 1.5 million illegal aliens in the region, most of whom are young, marginally skilled Latin Americans, are far less exploited at work than is widely believed.
This is the second of a series of articles on illegal aliens in the metropolitan area.
But the full social and economic impact of illegal aliens — who also include Chinese, Greeks, Filipinos, Italians and others — is open to dispute, as is illustrated in the area of employment.
In one recent month, the Immigration and Naturalization Service here apprehended more than 140 illegal aliens who were working in jobs ranging from dishwasher to beautician to accountant. At the same time, the State Employment Service had in its files the names of hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of people seeking identical jobs.
Some people dismiss this sort of comparison, arguing that most illegal aliens do menial, necessary work that citizens and legal resident aliens shun. But to immigration officials, and a growing number of other people, the figures prove only that illegal aliens are taking jobs from legal residents.
“Get these illegals out of this country,” one man bellowed at a community board meeting on illegal aliens last month in Queens.
“It’s time to protect the Americans,” another man shouted to the 300 people in attendance. Before he could go on, applause was wafting across the school auditorium in Elmhurst. Scant attention was given a woman who warned against making illegal aliens “a scapegoat, like in Nazi Germany.”
Among the findings of The Times’s investigation of illegal aliens are the following:
¶ Some illegal aliens are victimized because of their status by employers, landlords, lawyers, merchants and creditors. Some are afraid to call the poilice when needed or to appear lin court, and some continually dread capture by the Smmigration service. But most who are working earn at least the minimum wage, and many enjoy union benefits. Increasingly surrounded here by thousands of their countrymen and aware that the net of the immigration service is small and erratic, many illegal aliens are leading relatively stable lives.
“What we might define as exploitation, many illegals regard as the greatest opportunities of their lives,” said Austin T. Fragomen Jr., an immigration lawyer whose firm sees thousands of illegal aliens a year. “Generally the illegals have become part of the community and are a lot more secure than is commonly thought. They are basically law-abiding people trying to climb out of poverty and, in the truest sense of the American dream, they are willing to work for it.”
¶ Some illegal aliens are engaged in crime, especially drug trafficking that originates in Latin America and the Far East. For example, half of the 210 persons who were arrested last October in connection with an international cocaine-smuggling operation were officially identified as illegal aliens living and working in this area. And officials of the city’s jail system estimate that 6 to 10 per cent of the 7,300 inmates in the jails are illegal aliens, many of them posing as Puerto Ricans or Cubans. But there is no evidence that illegal aliens who come here to work commit more crime proportionately than other people.
¶ Many illegal aliens rarely, if ever, file Federal, state or city tax returns. And many, including a number who come here alone and expect to go home eventually, reduce the amount of taxes withheld from their wages by claiming more dependents than they are entitled to. An Internal Revenue Service spokesman said illegal aliens could usually claim dependents living in this country, however illegally, but were not entitled to claim dependents residing abroad.
¶ An unknown number of illegal aliens are receiving welfare and Medicaid benefits. According to the immigration service the number is “undoubtedly in the thousands.” But others say that most illegal aliens do not seek welfare for fear that their illegal status will be uncovered.
Until last August, the city was not required to ask the legal status of welfare applicants who were aliens, and it seldom did so. Now illegal aliens are barred by Federal and state laws from receiving aid except for 30 days of “emergency” assistance. Al.though some senior welfare officials apparently do not understand the new laws, the city says it is trying to remove illegal aliens from the welfare rolls and prevent others from registering.
One couple dropped from the rolls were Caro and John Roberts (the names of illegal aliens in this article have been changed). They came here from Antigua, Leeward Islands, on tourist visas in mid-1972, with their four children, and Mr. Roberts took a job as a security guard.
On July 17, 1974, after a complaint about Mr. Roberts was lodged with immigration officials, the Roberts family was allowed to leave the country voluntarily. Mrs. Roberts attempted to prove with a baptismal certificate that she was born in the Virgin Islands. However, after a batch of blank certificates were found in the Roberts apartment in the Bronx, she conceded that she had bought the document in Harlem, officials said.
While they were here, according to the city’s Department of Social Services, the Robertses received an estimated total of $7,140 in welfare payments; welfare officials did not know Mr. Roberts was working. In addition, Mr. Roberts used his public-assistance card to arrange Medicaid payment for a $328.46 bill at Morrisania Hospital, which he entered on July 12, 1974, with a stab wound.
¶Illegal aliens, including their children born abroad use schools, hospitals and other public services at will or with little difficulty, at times avoiding the payment of bills or submitting fraudulent documents to establish eligibility for services. Although the city’s Board of Education, according to a spokesman, has no policy that would deny public education to illegal alien children, some schools insist that aliens show “green cards” — proof of legal residency — and turn away those who lack the cards. These children return to their native countries to live with relatives, or remain out of school, or enroll in a school that makes no special demands on aliens.
Most Students Hispanic
Ninety-three per cent of the students at P.S. 115 are Hispanic, with Dominicans accounting for the largest number, then South and Central Americans, then Puerto Ricans.
“I have to assume we have some illegal aliens, but we have no way of knowing how many,” Abraham Gross, the school’s principal, said in an interview. “If a child lives in this district and wants an education, I have to give it to him. We’re not in the immigration business.”
Nor are municipal hospitals initially concerned with aliens’ status. State law, according to officials of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, requires general hospitals to admit any person in need of treatment, whether or not the person is legal resident.
One person who availed herself of that circumstance was Therese Claire, a 42-year-old Haitian who overstayed her wurlst visa and worked as a domestic on the East Side. Between May, 1973, and last February, Mrs. Claire made six “billable” visits to Metropolitan Hospital.
Officials at the municipal hospital said that Mrs. Claire did not pay her bill for $30, that several reminders were sent to her address on the Upper West Side and that the letters were not returned as undeliverable, If Mrs. Claire does not respond, a spokes man for the hospital corporation said, the bill will be “written off as a bad debt.”
It will probably be written off.
Unknown to the hospital, Mrs. Claire gave up her 12-footsquare, $25-a-week room some months ago and went back to Haiti with her husband, who was working here illegally as a tailor. She has been denied a visa to return to the United States because she violated the terms of her earlier visa.
There are other debts, of other illegal aliens, and the sums are substantially larger.
Last June a Congressional subcommittee examining the immigration service estimated that the yearly loss of incometax revenue to the Federal Government from illegal aliens throughout the country was $100-million.
In a pilot project here last spring, the Internal Revenue Service collected $21,456 from a small number of aliens who were apprehended by the immigration service and who had cash reserves. Many of the aliens, a Federal tax official said, had not only failed to file tax returns but also said they were unaware of the need to do so.
“The $21,000 shouldn’t be taken as an indication of what could be collected on a regular basis,” the tax official said. “We haven’t got a solid idea of the compliance gap among illegal aliens in New York, but it’s obviously more than $21,000.”
$40,000 Sent Home
However much they pay in taxes, illegal aliens routinely line up at registered-mail windows in the region on Saturday mornings to send money home to relatives, or for safe-keeping in the event of their exposure here. No one knows how much money is “exported” in this fashion but, in the Caribbean, it is said that, next to sugar, American visas generate the most foreign exchange. One ice cream vender here, immigration officials said, sent home $40,000 and filed only one tax return during the six years he overstayed his tourist visa.
Representative Peter W. Rodino, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the House subcommittee on immigration, has estimated that more than $1-billion is “removed from our economy” yearly by illegal aliens.
Yet Mr. Fragomen, the immigration lawyer, who was formerly a staff counsel of the subcommittee, said that any drain was more than offset by taxation of illegal aliens and by their spending. And the aliens themselves, like Jaime Llorca, tend to share that view.
Mr. Llorca was 55 years old when he arrived here from Buenos Aires on a tourist visa in September, 1970. He quickly got a job as a bicycle builder, rented a room from friends in Queens and was soon sending his family $250 a month. By 1972, his wife and several children had joined him, on tourist visas, and they are now living in a comfortable, wellfurnished apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
Over a cup of thick, sweet coffee, Mr. Llorca recalled some trying times here. He was once robbed of “everything.” A man introduced by a priest took $1,500 to help him obtain a “green card” and did nothing. Mr. Llorca carried a map of the city to avoid asking directions from strangers who might discover his status. He lost weight. For long periods he would “jump” at the sight of a police officer.
But Mr. Llorca gradually concluded that the immigration service “does not bother you if you just go to work and come home.” And he found a lawyer who arranged for his entire family to become legal permanent residents. Today, Mr. Llorca said, his son has a car and he has a car and he is saving to buy a house in Queens.
“Who could want more?” he asked, setting down his goldrimmed glasses near a souvenir plate inscribed with “New York City — City of Wonders.”
“Here you do a job and people appreciate it,” he said. “It’s a great satisfaction to me.”
Not everyone, however, is satisfied, especially in middleclass neighborhoods, black or white or mixed, where the Hispanic bodega has become as commonplace in recent years as the delicatessen or the pub or the spaghetti house.
Some supporters of illegal aliens, who prefer to call them “aliens without documents” or “aliens without status,” see a racist or bigoted attitude in the criticism of the aliens, not unlike the criticism of American blacks in many predominantly white communities. A ranking immigration official said that, if the population change had been made up of western Europeans, “you wouldn’t see all these neighborhoods up in arms — I know, from the re marks made to me.”
Yet the conflict is there.
In churches in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, priests say that half the foreign parishioners are illegal aliens. Neatly dressed Haitians, who may once have lived in straw shacks with tin roofs, chant French mass on Sunday mornings and their voices carry into the streets.
Meanwhile, the Crown Heights Taxpayers and Civic Association advises its members how to report illegal aliens to the immigration service. In Queens, the Community Planrang Board for Corona and Elmhurst declares that “the eillegal-alien problem is the first and foremost of all the problems” in the area. And in Jackson Heights, the president of the civic association, Patrick C. Deignan, describes illegal aliens as “an unbearable burden” on the community, “an American tragedy.”
In these areas, long-time residents see graffiti on new homes, auto body “shops” set up in driveways, a half-dozen mailboxes and garbage cans in front of homes zoned for one or two families — and, rightly or wrongly, they blame illegal aliens, Indeed, the accusations against illegal aliens range from double parking to littering to “hanging out on the streets” in summer. But often the talk turns to broader issues — crime, welfare, the job market.
The Police Department, according to a spokesman, notifies the immigration service of the arrest of any alien, legal or illegal, but does not compile its own statistics on aliens and crime.
Max Weinman, chief of the criminal unit of the immigration service here, said 75 per cent of the referrals from the police involved drug use or trafficking, although he said there was also a “growing tendency” among illegal aliens to commit such offenses as holdups, pickpocketing and prostitution.
Immigration officials usually draw a distinction between illegal aliens who come here to work but commit crimes (a number that officials say is increasing but is still “minimal” compared with the illegal-alien population) and aliens whose primary purpose, often after being smuggled into the country, is to engage in crime (a number they say is increasing significantly).
In Chinatown, in particular, immigration officials say, Chinese illegal aliens have helped Ito make murder, gambling, extortion and other crimes “the rule of the day.”
Welfare Law Changed
With regard to illegal aliens on welfare, lack of data is not the only problem. There is some question whether top officials of the city’s Department of Social Services and the Health land Hospitals Corporation, as well as lower-echelon welfare employes, understand or enforce the new laws barring all but “emergency” aid for illegal aliens.
Before last August, according to the state’s Department of Social Services, no person in need could be denied welfare or Medicaid because he was an alien, legal or illegal. But last June Governor Wilson signed a bill making the state law conform with new Federal regulations banning welfare or Medicaid to illegal aliens. (Applicants for unemployment insurance are not asked their residency status.)
Yet in interviews in recent weeks, Harold Scharfstein, director of reimbursement plans and programs of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, ands James Costantini, deputy director of the City’s Bureau of Medical Assistance in the Department of Social Services, both said that aliens were not required to be here legally to qualify for Medicaid.
Aid Mostly for Children
And Martin Burdick, director of income maintenance for the city’s Social Services Department, said the department had no obligation to inform the immigration service of illegal aliens, although a state welfare directive issued last summer said the immigration service should be notified immediately of any alien who is unable to verify his legal residency or who presents documents of “questionable validity.”
Most welfare assistance is aid to dependent children and now, as before, the American-born child of an illegal alien is entitled to help. For example, Margarita Oliva arrived here in February, 1968, from the Dominican Republic on a tourist visa and gave birth to a daughter in Brooklyn in April, 1969.
Mrs. Oliva, who worked for a Manhattan pocketbook manufacturer was allowed to leave the United States voluntarily last November when she was found by the immigration service. But in the preceding five years, welfare officials said, she collected $14,105 in aid to dependent children.
Welfare officials did not know that Mrs. Oliva was working. Yet, just as no one really knows how many of the 950,000 welfare recipients in the city are illegal aliens, no one knows how many illegal aliens are employed here.
Some Work for U.S.
According to the immigration service, most illegal aliens who are employed are unskilled and semi-skilled laborers working throughout the region. Some have even been found working, as kitchen helpers in Government facilities at the United States Military Academy at West Point and in the cafeteria of the Federal Office Building at 26 Federal Plaza.
But Maurice F. Kiley, the immigration director for southern New York, estimates that more than 100,000 “higher paying” jobs are also being held in this region by illegal aliens. The average salary of illegal aliens apprehended here in the last year was $150 a week, officials said.
Supporters of illegal aliens assert not only that the aliens hold jobs that legal residents scorn but also that many small businesses would have to close without this source of labor. Besides, the supporters say, the aliens are exploited in terms of wages and working conditions. A priest, for example, told of la group of Haitian factory workers in Brooklyn who were dismissed after they complained about a lack of ventilation in the plant.
But immigration officials say there is little merit to these arguments. They say that “exploitation is a relative term,” and that, contrary to the plight of many citizens and legal resident aliens, there is little unemployment here among illegal aliens who want to work.
“They’ve got the greatest grapevine in the world,” a senior immigration official here remarked. “A week off the plane they’re holding down one or two jobs and working Sundays and nights. You have to remember why they came.”