President Trump’s battle against immigration has recently turned to families who receive government assistance.
Like many other presidential assertions and proposals, these could be based on misleading or even false information.
The Department of Health and Human Services has suggested possible changes to its system of verifying eligibility for public housing. Through a program called Systemic Alien Verification for Entitlements, the administration intends to find any undocumented residents and evict them. While the changes haven’t been finalized, some have suggested that even if only one person living in a housing unit is unauthorized, the entire family will be evicted.
In addition, the Justice Department has presented a draft regulation that tightens eligibility for government assistance.
Under the changes, even legal residents could be deported if they have received any government benefits.
Perhaps the administration is reacting to a recent report from the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for reduced immigration. The report indicates that 63% of households that include at least one immigrant receive some kind of government benefit or payment.
It’s important to note the focus on households rather than individuals. Most benefits are not issued to the immigrants, but to spouses and children who are U.S. citizens.
They consist of are Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and food benefits either through the SNAP program or free school lunches.
The 63% figure does include legal immigrants who receive Earned Income Tax Credits through their income tax returns.
Benefits do not go to the immigrants directly, as federal law disqualifies them from most welfare programs. Applicants for residency visas must affirm that they will not “become a charge” to the government.
Permanent residents usually must have a sponsor, who also must pledge to support the immigrant if he can’t support himself.
Thus, any benefits are issued to the qualifying family members, not to the immigrants.
Removing them from the household, therefore, won’t benefit taxpayers, since the number of qualifying recipients won’t change. Those welfare restrictions do not apply to refugees and people who have been given asylum, since their residency is based on the risk of harm in their native country, regardless of their financial situation.
Historically, however, refugees have become valued members of our society and our economy quickly, whether they were Cubans in the 1960s, Southeast Asians in the 1970s or Chinese, Irish and other groups who came before them.
Targeting families that benefit from government programs, therefore, won’t reduce welfare participation.
It will, however, tear more families apart, which countless studies have shown can have permanent negative effects on the children in such households.
That is why until the current administration, U.S. policy has favored keeping families together, to avoid longterm problems in the future.