Opinion

O’BRIEN: Cuccinelli Is Right To Hold Immigrants Responsible For Self-Sufficiency Requirement

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Americans have always believed that admitting large numbers of immigrants who can’t support themselves is a bad idea. All of our immigration laws have contained provisions to ensure the U.S. doesn’t become overburdened caring for migrants who are destitute or unwilling to work.

Unfortunately, those provisions have been ignored by politicians attempting to curry favor with migrant advocacy groups. The effects have been a financial disaster.

A recent study by the Center for Immigration Studies shows about half of all immigrant-led households currently use at least one welfare program, compared to 35 percent of native households. That figure represents a massive cost to American taxpayers. It’s one they shouldn’t be paying.

Ken Cuccinelli, the new acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced his agency will begin enforcing the law as it is applicable to green-card-holders. This move is wise public policy and long overdue.

Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prohibits foreign nationals who are likely to become public charges (e.g., people dependent on welfare) from entering the United States. To overcome this ground of admissibility, immigrants are allowed to file an Affidavit of Support signed by a relative or associate who agrees to cover the immigrant’s expenses should the immigrant fall on hard times.

Pursuant to the Illegal Immigrant Responsibility and Immigration Reform Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), the Affidavit of Support creates a binding contract between the government and the immigrant’s sponsor. The sponsor may be sued by government agencies for the cost of any means-tested benefits provided to the immigrant. Alternatively, in lieu of applying for welfare benefits, immigrants may sue their sponsors for cash assistance, in much the same way that parents are permitted to sue one another for child support.

That’s all great in theory. But, until now, most agencies haven’t wanted to bother enforcing Affidavits of Support. Their hesitation has been entirely due to vocal criticism by the open-borders lobby, which portrays enforcement of immigrant financial obligations as “cruel” and “unreasonable.”

But those criticisms are misplaced. Immigrants who need an affidavit of support to enter our country are, by definition, inadmissible as public charges, at the time they are admitted to the U.S. However, the U.S. is fair, and Americans believe that everyone who works hard in our nation has an opportunity to become self-sufficient. Rather than simply turning them away, we allow immigrants who are financially on the edge to find a sponsor to speak up on their behalf. In essence, the sponsor says, “I know this individual will work hard. I am so convinced of this that I am willing to pay up if he/she fails.”

What is wrong with expecting sponsors to reimburse the American taxpayer when that endorsement turns out to have been deceptive or inaccurate? Absolutely nothing. The colonists who settled the United States firmly believed that, except in exigent circumstances, failing to care for one’s self imposed an unfair burden on one’s neighbors.

That precept remains just as true today as it was in 1776. It is not a condemnation of the poor. Rather, it is an affirmation of the American belief that meager origins are not a bar to success. We expect those who wish to become members of our great nation to work hard, just as generations of prior immigrants were expected to do. And we should not accommodate those who come here with their hands out while U.S. citizens continue to go hungry, homeless and without medical care.

Cuccinelli’s announcement is just one more demonstration that the Trump administration comprehends the burden that unchecked mass migration places on Americans and their communities. America’s social safety net is financed by taxpayers. And financially strapped citizens aren’t an endless well of cash. Needlessly providing millions of dollars in benefits to recently-arrived foreign nationals who never paid into our system is a recipe for financial disaster. Especially when Congress has explicitly provided a fair, clearly defined method for recouping that cash.

Simply put, self-sufficiency is a fair price to pay for the privilege of living in the United States.

Matt O’Brien is director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit group advocating for legal immigration.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.