Politics

Federal government’s open-door immigration policy on welfare under fire

Photo of Caroline May
Caroline May
Political Reporter

The federal government allows immigrants to enjoy America’s vast welfare safety net, from food stamps to housing benefits and Medicaid, and remain immune from repercussions to their immigration status. And on Monday, ranking Republican members of the Senate Finance, Agriculture, Budget, and Judiciary Committees wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding to know why.

Immigration regulations prohibit individuals “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” from legal admittance into the United States. But non-citizens can avail themselves of dozens of welfare programs without the federal government considering them a dependency risk.

In government-speak, an individual likely to become reliant on the government for survival is termed a “public charge.” While there is a menu of over 80 federal welfare programs in America, that status is triggered by reliance on two federal programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act explains that immigrants are “inadmissible” to the United States if the U.S. Attorney General or any consular officer who interacts with them determines that he or she “is likely at any time to become a public charge.”

Despite immigration regulations that specifically state individuals may not be legally admitted if that determination is made, the real-world application of those regulations reveals a different story.

Acceptance of food stamps benefits, housing benefits, energy assistance, child care services, Medicaid and a wealth of other programs are all inadmissible in the determination of a non-citizen’s “public charge” risk, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Non-cash or special-purpose cash benefits are generally supplemental in nature and do not make a person primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. Therefore, past, current, or future receipt of these benefits do not impact a public charge determination,” Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) explain on its website.

In an interview with The Daily Caller, USCIS spokesman Christopher Bentley explained that applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, and that Homeland Security does not keep data on how many people are rejected because they may become  public charges. The agency also does not track whether or not individuals becomes public charges once they become U.S. residents.

Asked if Homeland Security follows up with resident aliens to determine if they have become public charges, Bentley replied, “Once they get their permanent residency, no, no. Once you become a permanent resident of the United States, you are a permanent resident of the United States until you do something for which you could be place into proceedings — immigration proceedings.

“And then if you become deportable — and that is usually based on a crime, a felony — then you lose your permanent residency. But other than that, the only way you would lose it would be if you [had] secured it through some means of fraud.”

According to Bentley, becoming a public charge is not reason enough to deport a permanent non-citizen resident.