According to Sessions, immigrants who come to America should be able to operate successfully without the aid of government.
“An immigration policy should seek to bring people to the United States who will be able to function independently without government subsidies,” he explained. “We’ve got millions of people that want to come here, millions of people who would be able to perform without a subsidy, so we need to be selecting those people.”
Sessions isn’t simply concerned that the USDA has eschewed transparency with their Mexican partnership or that legal immigrants are encouraged to get on the government’s handout rolls — he is also worried about the lack of protections against undocumented immigrants receiving benefits for which they are not qualified.
As the senator detailed in his letter to Vilsack, and the USDA’s 2011 Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility for SNAP explains, although undocumented immigrants are usually not eligible to enroll in SNAP, illegals may enroll their eligible children.
It is up to the states to determine if applicants or households are qualified aliens. In some circumstances, SNAP benefits can be conferred upon people who merely state, upon penalty of perjury, that they are in the country legally.
“Applicants need only attest that they are citizens of the United States, and the state must accept that attestation as conclusive,” Sessions explained in his letter. “Some states currently voluntarily participate in the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, which allows administrators to run a simple check to determine if non-citizen applicants are eligible for benefits. States that do not use SAVE to verify alien status may simply accept the applicant’s attestation of legal status as a substitute for verification, or, alternately, may accept submitted documents without checking their veracity.”
Sessions offered an amendment to the Senate version of the 2012 farm bill last month which would have required the government to use SAVE — a program similar to E-Verify — to ensure SNAP recipients are in the country legally. The amendment was not brought to the floor for a vote.
According to Sessions’ office, the Congressional Budget Office was unable to estimate how much money the SAVE amendment would have saved because the federal government does not know how many ineligible illegal immigrants have accessed SNAP.
Mexico is the only country with which USDA has a nutrition assistance outreach partnership agreement.