Readers of yesterday's flashback wondered what happened to Riva Feldsher after the column ran. I had a vague memory of checks coming into the paper, no more. But I looked, and found this, which will have to do for today—I didn't write a Friday column, because I wrote something longer for Sunday about Rahm Emanuel's place in history, or lack of which.
The 83-year-old immigrant from the former Soviet Union bought the food because at 24 cents a can it represented cheap food for herself, she said.
But now, after living under the threat of losing her federal welfare benefits, Feldsher's life is looking up.
Since a March 27 Chicago Sun-Times article on the situation Feldsher shares with thousands of legal immigrants in Illinois who face losing of their federal income because of welfare reform, she has applied for citizenship.
She is taking advantage of a change in the Immigration and Naturalization Service's rules, which now allow disabled immigrants to apply for citizenship without passing a written test. Feldsher is nearly blind and is mentally frail.
However, immigrants still must take a "meaningful oath," a requirement that troubles advocates.
"While we understand the political pressure the INS is under, we're concerned that many people will not meet that strict requirement," said Barbara Otto, head of the SSI Coalition for a Responsible Safety Net.
Immigrants with Alzheimer's disease, or those with significant mental impairment, could be denied benefits, she said.
The Sun-Times article about Feldsher got a strong response from readers. Some expressed sympathy and sent checks.
Others were outraged that foreign nationals can come to this country and receive "handouts." They suggested that whoever sponsored Feldsher should take care of her.
"In Riva Feldsher's case, the person who sponsored her is her sister, who is also on (public aid) and doesn't have any income to support her," said Donna Pezzuto, assistant director of the Council for Jewish Elderly, which helps Feldsher, who came here six years ago, and people like her function in society.
Pezzuto points out that while there was still a Soviet Union, the United States was interested in getting people out from behind the Iron Curtain.
"In the past, the sponsor was not legally responsible for supporting them," she said. "Most of these people were refugees, fleeing religious persecution, and we opened our arms to them."
Otto said that in many cases people were in good health when they came to this country, but deteriorated with age.
"What are we going to say to them, 'Tough luck'?" Otto said. "These are people the United States said could come to this country. We said, 'We will grant you refugee status.' Now we're changing the rules."
Otto said the SSI Coalition is filing a class-action lawsuit against the Social Security Administration, alleging that the status of immigrants had been changed unlawfully.
In a related matter, a bill that would restore partial benefits to elderly and disabled immigrants denied federal benefits passed the Illinois Legislature April 17. A similar bill is being assembled in the U.S. House by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D.-Ill.) to return benefits to legal immigrants and pay the cost by reducing "corporate welfare" to profitable businesses.
Gutierrez will lead a protest at the White House Wednesday to draw attention to the issue. A protest also will be held in Chicago.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, May 5, 1997