SPRINGFIELD, Ill – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation aimed at helping over 500 elderly and disabled refugees and political asylees who have not attained U. S. citizenship because of a backlog of applications.
“Through no fault of their own, these individuals have not been granted U. S. citizenship and may lose an important safety net,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “With the legislation I’m signing today, elderly refugees and people seeking asylum will be able to continue getting the help they need while they pursue full citizenship. The sponsors of this bill – Representative Harry Osterman and Senator Carol Ronen – should be commended for being such strong advocates for senior citizens who find themselves in a desperate situation because their citizenship applications are held up.”
Among the refugee groups living in Illinois who would be impacted by the new law are Russian Jews, Bosnians, Cambodians and Iraqi Kurds.
House Bill 5889, sponsored by state Rep. Harry Osterman (D-Chicago) and state Sen. Carol Ronen (D-Chicago), provides cash assistance for the elderly and disabled refugees and political asylees living in Illinois who have not received U. S. citizenship within the required seven years. The individuals have been unable to receive citizenship because of a huge backlog at the federal level. Since they have not attained citizenship, they are no longer eligible for the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cash assistance program. The new law will enable the Department of Human Services to extend the cash benefits.
Under the federal immigration laws, these individuals were granted asylum in the United States because of humanitarian reasons. The federal welfare reform law only allows political and other refugees to receive benefits for up to seven years if they have not been granted citizenship.
The new law will ensure that the Department of Public Aid can extend medical benefits to individuals who are still awaiting citizenship. An estimated 31 people lost their benefits in Fiscal Year 2003 because of the legal loophole; another 67 lost benefits in Fiscal Year 2004; and 60 more individuals were at risk of losing benefits in Fiscal Year 2005.
“I want to thank Governor Blagojevich for continuing to address the needs of immigrants in the State of Illinois. House Bill 5889 is very important legislation that will provide needed assistance to thousands of Illinois senior citizens as the work to become United States Citizens,” said Osterman.