Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Right of Undocumented Immigrants to State Funded Public Benefits under the New York Constitution

By Steven Sacco
Steve Sacco is a dual degree student, pursuing a Masters in Social Work at the SUNY Albany School of Social Welfare while a student at Albany Law School. He is interested in advocating for the rights of marginalized communities, particularly for undocumented migrants, immigration detainees and prisoners. He is also interested in learning and writing more about affirmative constitutional rights under the state and federal constitutions, such as the rights to counsel in a criminal trial, to healthcare, and to public benefits.
Mr. Sacco prepared this paper for the State Constitutional Adjudication Seminar, Spring 2012.
Steve has previously been published by the Center. (See Constitutional Guardianship in State Courts, April 9, 2012.)

There are an estimated 635,000 undocumented residents in New York. While many of these individuals do not need or do not have the income to qualify for public benefits, some certainly do. In New York City for example, between 11 and 14 percent of undocumented residents earn less than $20,000 a year.

Generally, and with few exceptions, undocumented residents are not qualified to receive any non-emergency federal public benefits under federal law. Title IV of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) of 1996 however, effectively states that undocumented residents are ineligible for state or local-funded public benefits as well, unless a state enacts, "after August 22, 1996," a new law that "affirmatively provides for such eligibility."

The New York State Court of Appeals decision in the matter of Aleissa v. Novello is often cited as the ultimate authority for the provision of non-emergency public benefits to legal permanent residents (LPRs) and other "qualified immigrants," in New York State, and as such, is a necessary starting point for our discussion.*
* Citations to references in this introduction are available in the paper.
To read the entire paper, open HERE.