DHS Promotes Govt. Benefits to Immigrants Despite Legal Prohibition of Visas for Likely Welfare Recipients

Fred Lucas | November 20, 2012 | 12:29pm EST
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U.S. Department of Agriculture SNAP program (food stamp) card. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The Department of Homeland Security is promoting welfare benefits for immigrants on its website WelcometoUSA.gov despite a law that seeks to prevent new immigrants from becoming dependent after entering the United States.

The Immigration and Nationality Act, under section 212, states, “An alien who, in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.” Section 212 also addresses the health status and criminal background of someone seeking legal status.

However, the website, WelcometoUSA.gov, stated, “Depending on your immigration status, length of time in the United States, and income, you may be eligible for some federal benefit programs.

“Government assistance programs can be critically important to the well-being of some immigrants and their families. Frequently, however, there is a lack of information about how to access such benefits. Benefit programs can be complicated and you may be given misleading information about how they operate,” the website added.

The website maintained by DHS goes on to list links to information for immigrants in both English and Spanish for information on Medicaid; Medicare; food stamps; Social Security; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is the program that replaced Aid for Families with Dependent Children after the 1996 welfare reform legislation; and benefits for immigrant survivors of domestic violence.

“Federal law prohibits the granting of visas to those likely to be welfare reliant, yet DHS actively promotes these benefits to millions of new arrivals every year,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a statement. “DHS knows this, which is perhaps why they refuse to comply with an oversight request on this very issue from the Ranking Members of four Senate Committees.”

“It is a long-held principle of immigration that those seeking a life in America are expected to be able to care of themselves financially and contribute to the financial health of the nation,” Sessions continued.

“The Administration’s actions show this principle is no longer in effect. Encouraging self-sufficiency must be a bedrock for our immigration policy, with the goal of reducing poverty, strengthening the family, and promoting our economic values,” he said.

“But Administration officials and their policies are working actively against this goal. At the same time, those who would be self-sufficient are denied or delayed in their admittance,” Sessions added.

CNSNews.com contacted the Department of Homeland Security by phone and e-mail Monday for a response and asked, “Does the website welcometousa.gov with information about government benefits contradict section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act?”

The DHS did not respond by Tuesday afternoon.

Welfare spending is greater than all other major budget drivers, according to the Congressional Research Service, which found $1.029 trillion is spent on welfare. That’s compared to $725 billion spent on Social Security, $540 spent on Defense and $480 billion spent on Medicare.

“America spends enough each year on welfare to equal $60,000 for every household beneath the poverty line,” Sessions said. “Welfare is now the largest item in the budget and is projected to grow another 30 percent in the next four years.

“We should not pursue an immigration policy that places even more strain on the funding for domestic programs. DHS should remove any sections of its website, and any portions of its materials for new arrivals, that promote or encourage welfare reliance,” he added.

Since August, Sessions has been seeking information from the Agriculture Department, as well as the departments of State and Homeland Security, about a partnership between the United States and Mexico in which the Mexican consoler’s offices encourage non-citizens to enroll in USDA welfare benefits, primarily food stamps. This program began in 2004 during the Bush administration and continued under the Obama administration.

A USDA pamphlet handed out at consulate offices assures non-citizens that food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment will not affect their path to citizenship.

In a question and answer format, the pamphlet says, “If I get SNAP benefits, will I be a ‘public charge’?” Then answers, “No. You and your family can apply for and receive SNAP benefits without hurting your chances of becoming U.S. citizens.”

Food stamp usage in general has more than doubled since that time, according to the Senate Budget Committee, from 693,000 in 2004 to 1.6 million in 2012. It has quadrupled since 2001 with 425,000 food stamp recipients.

Sessions has at times been joined by fellow ranking members, Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) of the Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch of the Finance Committee (R-Utah) and Pat Roberts of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee (R-Kan.).

In 2010, 36 percent of immigrant-headed households received at least one welfare benefit, according to a study by the Center for Immigration Services.

In 2009, the Associated Press reported that 29,570 people living in public housing were illegal immigrants, which makes up about 0.4 percent of all federally funded housing, according to the AP, which cites the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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