By Harry Keaney
Lack of medical coverage for immigrants in New York State, including legal immigrants who have not become citizens, and the backlog in processing green card applications were among the problems highlighted at a press conference last Wednesday at a new immigration center in midtown Manhattan.
The center, at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 135 West 31st St., has its entrance on 32nd Street. The center’s Fr. Brian Jordan, a third-generation Irish American, said that quite a number of those now visiting the new immigration center are Irish.
According to a statement from the Church and Friary of St. Francis of Assisi, a decision by Gov. George Pataki and the New York State Legislature to provide medical coverage for the poor by raising the state’s cigarette tax contains a little-noticed provision denying those benefits to legal immigrants during their first five years in the U.S.
However, a spokesman for the governor’s office told the Echo that federal law prevents inclusion of those legal immigrants for medical insurance. But the Franciscan Immigration Center disagrees, saying that California and Massachusetts are already taking care of legal immigrants without the threat of a federal penalty.
The governor’s spokesman, Michael McKeon, also pointed out that those who sponsor immigrants have a responsibility to them.
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In addition, the Franciscan Immigration Center claims it now takes 33 to 40 months to obtain a green card from when an application is made.
According to Jordan, INS personnel and resources are now devoted to reducing the backlog of naturalization applications. Jordan said that green card applications were sent to a small office in the CIA for security reasons and, until recently, the agency held up the process for 12 months.
Last week’s press conference was attended by representatives of Voices for Immigrant Justice, the Greater New York Labor Religious Coalition and the New York Immigration Coalition. About 50 people attended.