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NYC’s Dominican immigrants struggle with poverty

November 11, 1997 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Adaljisa Luciano knows how hard it can be for Dominican immigrants seeking to escape poverty in their homeland _ only to find it here.

Separated from her husband, she cares for their 2-year-old daughter with $300 a week and food stamps. Her husband, Robert Gallardo, can’t find steady work but won’t leave the country _ and more relatives keep coming.

``People think we have a lot of money here. I am still trying to get off food stamps,″ Luciano said.

A new study bears out what Luciano has discovered: that Dominicans _ New York’s biggest immigrant group _ have had a hard time escaping poverty. The city’s fastest growing immigrant group, they are also its worst off.

``They just don’t have the language when they come over,″ Luciano said Monday from the tiny, brightly lit beauty shop that her mother scrimped for years to buy. ``That and they don’t train for a technical skill. They come too soon.″

A socioeconomic profile of immigrants from the Dominican Republic was released Monday by Ramona Hernandez, a sociologist at City University of New York, and Francisco Rivera-Batiz, an economist at Columbia University.

The 60-page study cites statistics from the last decade to paint a bleak picture of the future of Dominican Americans.

Although they came to the United States looking for better jobs and living conditions, they are rapidly falling behind other groups in the city, including blacks, Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic groups.

At the same time, researchers say, the Dominican population is growing so fast that their children are dominating city school rolls. The children, who tend to be poorer than others and often speak only Spanish, are in greater need of a good school system, the researchers conclude.

Among the roughly 495,000 Dominicans in New York City, the researchers found:

_ At least 18.8 percent are unemployed.

_ Four percent have college degrees, while more than half never finished high school.

_ Twenty-nine percent of Dominican households are on welfare, double the city’s overall rate.

_ About 46 percent of Dominican households live in poverty, also double the city rate.

In the heavily Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, many people said they’ve struggled to make it in the United States.

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``I told my husband how hard it was to get a job here. He’s very stubborn; he just didn’t want to listen,″ Luciano said.

Juan Batista runs one of many ``phone parlors″ where immigrants pay as little as 39 cents a minute to call the Dominican Republic, Mexico and other countries. Batista said many immigrants, however poor, work hard: ``Ninety percent of us are law-abiding. We don’t come here to be a burden to anyone.″

Many of the Dominican Republic’s 8 million residents depend on relatives, especially the 1 million in the United States, to send money home.

Large-scale Dominican emigration to America generally began after the 1962 death of dictator Rafael Trujillo, who had strict policies about leaving the Caribbean island.

The desire to emigrate still burns strongly, thanks to political corruption, a recent drought and prices that rise as fast as unemployment. If current patterns persist, New York City’s Dominican population will top 700,000 in the year 2000.