- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2019

President Trump ordered federal agencies Thursday to begin enforcing existing federal rules against immigrants who end up on the public dole, telling the government to begin demanding the money be repaid by the immigrants’ sponsors.

The move is aimed at legal immigrants who are generally supposed to prove they are able to sustain themselves without becoming dependent on welfare assistance.

Mr. Trump, in his new directive, said a 1996 law on the subject is plenty tough, but the government has never actually followed through on what Congress wrote.

“The purpose of this memorandum is to direct relevant agencies to update or issue procedures, guidance, and regulations, as needed, to ensure that ineligible non-citizens do not receive means-tested public benefits, in better compliance with the law,” he wrote.

In cases where immigrants do get payments, he said the people who sponsored them — and who were supposed to pledge they would be financially responsible — should be asked to pony up.

“Cases where the sponsor fails to pay the lawfully required reimbursements will be referred for collection procedures in accordance with the law,” the White House said.

It cast the move as part of the president’s new push to revamp the legal immigration system. Last week he announced the outline of a plan to shift the country’s 1.1 million annual legal immigrants from overwhelmingly family-based to a majority picked by their skill level.

Mr. Trump singled out food stamps, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or basic welfare payments, as the programs most in need up better guidance on denying immigrants access.

There are some exceptions, including for medical care for pregnant women and children, and food stamps for children.

But overall, the president said, his departments are far too lax.

He called on the secretaries of Agriculture and Health to spend the next 90 days coming up with new rules or guidance that includes how immigrants’ welfare payments are calculated, and how their sponsors will be charged.

Federal law has envisioned these sorts of checks dating back to the 1880s, and for decades after that the danger of becoming a public charge was the most common reason someone was denied entry to the U.S.

But in recent years the government has stopped pushing the issue.

The Washington Times reported in 2016 that out of five major countries for immigration to the U.S., just three people were cited for being public charges in the years from 2013 to 2015. And just one of those cases was actually sustained by immigration judges.

Mr. Trump said that by October, Homeland Security must alert all current sponsors and immigrants of their obligations.

The move could also light a fire under the department to finish a rule proposed last year reversing Clinton-era regulations that limited the types of programs that are subject to public charge requirements.

Homeland Security says the government stands to save nearly $20 billion over the next decade in benefits its the new rule was carried out — but it’s been bogged down in processing of comments.

Public assistance use among immigrant households is high, according to Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration controls.

He calculates that 45% of households headed by non-citizens use food stamps, compared to just 21 percent for native-headed households. In Medicaid, the rates are 50 percent for immigrant-led households, and 23 percent for native households.

Under the law, legal immigrants must have five years under their belt before they’re eligible for public assistance. But Mr. Camarota says that’s not much of a deterrent because so many of them have crossed that timeline, or the assistance is actually for their U.S.-born minor children, or the immigrants are here on humanitarian visas, making them eligible.

“That’s a big chunk of what happens,” he said.

Illegal immigrants are already generally not supposed to be eligible for assistance.

But sometimes illegal immigrant-headed households do claim benefits for others living with them who have legal status.

That’s the case for tens of thousands of families on public housing assistance.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced a rules change designed to cut those families off. It could affect some 25,000 families.

Democrats and immigrant-rights activists have complained, saying those “mixed-status” families already get less assistance pro-rated only for legal occupants.

Congressional Democrats wrote a letter this week saying the HUD rules will either evict whole families or force them to separate, with the illegal immigrants having to move out in order to keep assistance flowing to the legal ones.

They said a better answer would be to increase funding so more people could get assistance and illegal immigrants wouldn’t face “needless hardship and fear.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide