GOP senators press ‘Gang of 8’ members on welfare costs for newly legalized immigrants

Caroline May | Reporter

Three Republican senators have called on the GOP members of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” the group currently putting together a proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, to answer questions related to legalized undocumented immigrants accessing welfare benefits.

“A primary concern related to a large-scale legalization of illegal immigrants is the long-term cost for taxpayers,” Sens. Chuck Grassley, Jeff Sessions and Pat Roberts said in a Wednesday letter to the Republican Gang of Eight members. “The public comments from your group have created confusion.”

“We therefore write to seek your clarification and to obtain concrete information about the long-term costs that will be imposed on taxpayers once millions of illegal immigrants eventually become eligible not only for our nation’s major entitlements but approximately 80 different means-tested welfare and low-income assistance programs,” the trio continued.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake  are the four Republican members of the Gang of Eight. They are joined on the Democratic side by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

As The Daily Caller previously reported, Grassley, Sessions, and Roberts have pressed the Obama administration since last year on the enforcement of immigration laws ostensibly prohibiting a public charge, or someone primarily dependent on government assistance, from coming to the U.S. or changing their immigration status. The trio were joined in that effort by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.

“It has long been a sound principle of immigration law that those who seek citizenship in this country ought to be financially self-sufficient,” the senators wrote last year in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and then-State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton seeking additional information about the public charge statute.

The senators pointed out that immigration officials may currently only consider potential reliance on Supplemental Security Insurance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in making a public charge finding. “We were thus shocked to discover that both the State Department and DHS exclude reliance on almost all governmental welfare programs when evaluating whether an alien is likely to become a public charge,” they wrote.

The three senators referenced their requests in the letter to the GOP members of the Gang of Eight.

“As we discovered through several oversight requests from the Agriculture, Budget, and Judiciary Committees, existing federal immigration law designed to protect taxpayers is not enforced by this administration,” they wrote. “One of the biggest challenges facing any reform of our nation’s immigration laws is the refusal of this administration to enforce the laws already on the books.”

After publication, Rubio spokesman Alex Conant responded to The Daily Caller’s request for comment about the letter.

“There is no question that modernizing our immigration system will be help grow our economy and improve our nation’s finances,” Conant wrote in an email to TheDC. “Senator Rubio and the other seven senators are still working on the legislation, but once it’s completed, we will ask for an in-depth, dynamic study of its long-term benefits and costs. Importantly, no illegal immigrant will receive Federal benefits under our proposal. The Democrats have already agreed to partially repeal Obamacare for illegal immigrants, which is a key concession. Any suggestion that this legislation will extend welfare to illegal immigrants is simply false.”

In the note, the Republicans note that a vote on an amendment proposed by Sessions that would have prohibited newly legalized immigrants from accessing Obamacare or Medicaid split the “gang” along party lines.

“The rejection of that principle by the Democrat members of your group during a vote on an amendment to the budget raises significant concern,” the three senators wrote. “Moreover, even if the bill does contain strong, loophole-free language to this effect, it will only succeed in delaying — not reducing—the cost to taxpayers. In addition, a work requirement as a condition of amnesty would do little to nothing to protect taxpayers over the long term.”

Republican staffers on the Senate Budget Committee have estimated that the cost of Medicaid and Obamacare alone could be $40 billion in 2022 and that the long-term unfunded liability for Obamacare could increase by nearly $2 trillion.

Grassley, Sessions and Roberts pointed out that once the newly legalized population obtains their green cards, a large menu of welfare programs will be available to them, which could present “enormous” additional costs.

“Once the present illegal population receives green cards, they will be eligible under current law for a wide array of federal welfare programs including food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Medicaid,” they wrote.

They added that the costs could continue to increase as the newly legalized population retires and begins to draw Social Security and Medicare benefits “in excess of what they paid into those programs.”

With their concerns in mind, the three senators requested the gang seek a Congressional Budget Office estimate of the long-term costs of legalization prior to any vote in committee or on the Senate floor.

Additionally the three requested a list of all federal benefits programs that will be denied during immigrants’ probationary status, a list of federal benefits and programs they will be eligible for once they obtain a green card or permanent residency and cost estimates for various ten-year windows of the process.

They also ask to see the language in the legislation pertaining to enforcement of the public charge rule, and the potential increase in cost to unfunded obligations that could result from a pathway to citizenship.

The letter requests that all this information be made available before the legislation is unveiled.

This story has been updated to include comment from a Rubio spokesman.

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