- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2013

Entitlement spending and immigration are two issues that threaten America’s financial future. The two controversies meet in the case of the newly arrived elderly, many of whom have discovered they can cash in on an overly generous welfare system.

The scam is simple. Senior immigrants typically live with their foreign-born adult children who already have gained their U.S. citizenship. After five years of green-card status, the parents can apply for citizenship. From 2000 through 2011, about a million persons aged 60 or over were granted citizenship, accounting for about 13 percent of total naturalizations.

Often, the immigrant children are highly educated and quite well off, living in upscale homes and driving expensive cars. Their elderly parents’ standard of living is often well above that of most Americans, thanks to their children’s hard-earned success.

In the federal government’s eyes, however, the parents are poor. Because they’re retired, they have little or no income of their own; their children pay almost everything. So they’re eligible to go on the dole, even though they have never paid a dime in taxes. If they own a condominium or two in their home countries, it’s not taken into account as an asset when determining welfare eligibility.

The only factor considered is income, and language and distance barriers render it nearly impossible for U.S. authorities to verify whether they have income in their home country.

Medicaid for recent, elderly immigrants is practically a given. They frequently take advantage of Section 8 housing benefits, which can provide an extra place to stay on weekends after keeping an eye on the grandkids during the weekdays. Elderly immigrants crowd waiting lists for Section 8 housing to the extent that the lists get closed to new applicants, resulting in a particularly perverse outcome: Many of those shut out are genuinely poor.

Another perverse effect: Many such elderly live in Section 8 housing against their will. Often, after they’re no longer needed to take care of the grandkids, their son or daughter forces them into Section 8, where they’re often lonely and depressed.

Accepting such welfare carries no stigma for those who have arrived from socialist or formerly communist countries. That’s why it’s important that we do something about it now as the immigration debate begins. Elderly immigrants should receive U.S. citizenship only on the condition they don’t become a public charge. If they do, their sponsors (children) should have to pay.

Current law does prohibit granting a visa, permanent residency or citizenship if the person is deemed likely to become a “public charge.” Yet participation in only two of the nearly 80 federal welfare programs counts toward the applicant’s status as a public charge.

GOP Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Pat Roberts of Kansas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa sent a letter in September seeking answers from the Department of Homeland Security, but the response revealed the department pursued just one case, which was dropped, against an immigrant for being a public charge. We can’t afford the limitless generosity any longer.

The Washington Times