Poverty of Alientation


Poverty of Alientation

The Poverty of Alienation is a term I coined to decribe what the newly arriving immigrants encounter when they arrive in a new land with a new language, new customs, no job, no home, or sense of community.

I define the Poverty of Alienation as a condition in which undocumented immigrants experience not only material poverty but also a profound sense of disconnection or estrangement from others and society. It goes beyond the mere absence of resources and encompasses a broader deprivation of social connections, belonging, and meaningful relationships.

At  Helping Immigrants Thrive, Inc. we strive to help the undocumented, noncitizen acclimate into the New York community as quickly as possible. As we hear in the news, undocumented immigrants continue to pour into our city. Why? Because from the very founding of this Country, New York City has always welcomed immigrants. New York City has a proud history of being a sanctuary City, a city of refuge, a city of hope. In fact because New York City was so welcoming in June 17, 1885 France gifted the Statute of Liberty to the United States and it was erected in the New York Harbor (for the history of why France gifted this wonderful becon of hope to the United States click here to visit the History Channel online). It was in 1903 that the famous poem “The New Colossus”  was  inscribed on a plaque and placed on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.  The most often quoted section of this beautiful work of art are

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Give us your weak...

This poem was penned by a native New Yorker named Emma Lazarus. And while the Lazarus family was a wealthy one, they too were immigrants. Emma was involved in charitable work for refugees. She worked on Ward’s Island in East Harlem New York City as an aide for the Jewish immigrants who had been detained by Castle Garden immigration officials. She was deeply moved by the plight of the Russian Jews she met there and these experiences influenced her writing.


As one can see, the poverty of alienation is not a new experience. Dating back to the 1800’s poor immigrants encountered simliar experiences; homelessness, poverty, alientation, discrimination, and abuse. The Social Workers of those days took action to help amelieorate the situation. In 1853 Charles Loring Brace, and others founded the Children’s Aid Society, a precursor to the Foster Care System, and 36 years later, in 1889 because of the same issues confronting the Italian, Irish, German, Greek, Bohemian, and Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants, Jane Adamms and Ellen Gates Starr, founded the social settlement Hull-House, which launched the Settlement House Movement.

The immigrant issue is not a new one in the annals of American history, nor is it unique to New York City. Throughout its evolution, America has continously grappled with immigration. And, with social workers at the vanguard solutions have always emerged to “fix” the presenting problem.

Prior to Ellis Island immigrants arrived into the USA via Castle Garden “The Emigrant Landing Depot” in lower Manhattan. Beginning in 1855 with the opening of Castle Garden, until 194, with the closing of Ellis Land there had always been a way to process immigrants. Millions of immigrants passed through Ellis Island. Why then it is so difficult for the Federal Government to find an organized, legal way to process the current influx of immigrants?

Immigration is never going to end here in America. It is a human trait to want better, to strive for better living conditions, to want the freedom to create, and to contribute. The immigrantion situation can be managed but only if the Federal Government decides to do so. If there is no Ellis Island where immigrants can come to be processed in an orderly manner, immigrants will continue to come in that many percieve to be an unorderly and illegal way.

new york city the melting pot or beautiful mosaic
Because of it’s rich immigrant history New York City has been described as both a melting pot, and a beautiful mosaic.

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