Politics

              President Barack Obama waves from the top of the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Md., Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. Obama is traveling to Las Vegas to deliver a speech on immigration. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

DHS admits it does not track immigrants who become welfare dependent, pursued zero cases last year

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

In a response letter to four top Republican lawmakers, the Department of Homeland Security revealed it initiated only one case against an immigrant for becoming a “public charge,” or being primarily dependent upon the government, in fiscal year 2012. The case was later withdrawn.

While the department’s response to Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch and Pat Roberts’ August oversight request offered an overview of the centuries-old federal public-charge restrictions, it noticeably avoided several of the senators’ direct questions and demonstrated potentially significant inadequacies in record-keeping by immigration officials, who legally should be enforcing public-charge rules for immigrants both inside and outside of the country. (RELATED: Is DHS ignoring law barring immigrants who are dependency risks?)

The response, for example, failed to explain why immigrants are only assessed for their potential reliance on just two of the more than 80 federal means-tested welfare programs when the government determines if they are “public charges” prior to their entry into the U.S. — meaning that they are likely to become primarily dependent on federal aid for subsistence after arriving.

The DHS letter, penned by Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Nelson Peacock, further failed to respond to the four Republican senators’ data requests pertaining to the the total number of visa applicants from 2001-2011 that were denied on public-charge grounds, or numbers on those who were granted visas despite a public-charge finding.

DHS also did not reveal how many immigrants from 2001-2011 became public charges after obtaining a visa or entering the country. (RELATED: USDA partnering with Mexico to boost food stamp participation)

The department did, however, admit it does not have the data on immigrants who become public charges after gaining entry or a visa — despite, as Peacock writes in his letter, the fact that aliens “may also be found deportable on public charge grounds in accordance [immigration law], but only if they became public charges within the first five years after entry for causes that have not been affirmatively shown to have arisen since entry.”

Peacock explained that “historical data responsive for the number of aliens issued visas or otherwise admitted into the United States from 2001 to 2011 who became public charges and who were later issued Notices to Appear is unavailable,” because of “data entry quality and system changes that did not account for statistical tracking at this level.”

A case-by-case review of fiscal year 2012 data shows that only a single case that was brought up because an immigrant allegedly became a public charge after gaining a visa or entry to the country. Peacock noted, however, that the charge was later withdrawn.

Deportations of immigrants for being public charges after their arrival in the U.S. are relatively rare, according to the Federal Register, due to additional exemptions for certain classes of immigrants and legal burdens on the government. It is typically easier for the government to deny entry to immigrants on public-charge grounds prior to their entry into the country.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a single American who believes a whole year went by without a single alien violating the public-charge law,” one Republican aide said in reaction to Peacock’s admission. “This revelation from DHS is beyond disturbing. It is inexcusable. Surely this must give pause to fiscal conservatives considering the cost to American taxpayers of various comprehensive immigration reform proposals being discussed.”

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is currently addressing these data tracking issues and intends to capture such data in a reliable manner in the future,” Peacock said.