The United States Department of Agriculture has been working to dispel immigrants’ concerns that getting on food stamps will harm their chances of becoming U.S. citizens.
The USDA addresses those fears in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp, brochures it distributes to Mexican consulates as part of its “partnership” with the Mexican government “to help educate eligible Mexican nationals living in the United States about available nutrition assistance.”
In one portion of the brochure, USDA’s text asks, “If I get on SNAP benefits, will I be a ‘public charge?'” The brochure then answers: “No. You and your family can apply for and receive SNAP benefits without hurting your chance of becoming U.S. citizens.”
The brochure further advises immigrants that members of their family could qualify for food stamps, even if they do not.
“If you are not eligible due to your immigration status, your legal immigrant or citizen children may still qualify,” the brochure reads. “You do not have to provide immigration information about yourself when you apply for your legal immigrant or citizen children.”
Legal immigrants may obtain SNAP benefits after a five-year wait. Children under 18, refugees, asylees, and some disabled and elderly do not have to wait, as the pamphlet notes.
The brochure, obtained by The Daily Caller, was part of a packet the USDA offered in response to a July inquiry about the USDA/Mexico partnership from Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee. The packet contained materials the agency gives Mexican consulates to distribute to Mexican-Americans, Mexican nationals and migrant communities in America.
The USDA/Mexico partnership started in 2004 under the Bush administration. Since that time, USDA personnel have met more than 150 times with the Mexican government to promote American nutrition-assistance programs. (RELATED: Learn more about the USDA’s partnership with Mexico)
“The Mexico-U.S. Partnership for Nutrition Assistance Initiative is just one of a wide range of USDA partnership activities intended to promote awareness of nutrition assistance among those who need benefits and meet all program requirements under current law,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote in a response letter to Sessions’ inquiries last fall.
An analysis of March 2011 Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey data by Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, revealed that heads of households born in Mexico are the most likely nationality to be on some form of food assistance, with 45.3 percent reporting use of food assistance.
By comparison, 13.9 percent of native-born Americans reported using food assistance, and in general 24.1 percent of all immigrant household heads report some food assistance use.
As the brochure notes, food stamp use (or potential food stamp use) is not taken into account when the government considers an applicant’s request for an immigration status adjustment or entry into the United States — nor is use of the majority of the government’s more than 80 federal means-tested assistance programs.
Potential use or receipt of only two federal programs could render an applicant inadmissible on public-charge grounds: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
TheDC has previously reported that the restriction on public-charge entries (contained in the Immigration and Nationality Act) are currently minimally enforced, and the enforcement of immigrants granted legal access who subsequently become public charges is essentially non-existent.
USDA did not respond to request for comment.