“Welcome to USA.gov,” a website maintained by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), bills itself as the “primary gateway for new immigrants to find basic information on how to settle in the United States”—featuring a prominent section for new immigrants about how to access government benefits.
“Depending on your immigration status, length of time in the United States, and income, you may be eligible for some federal benefit programs,” the Web page reads.
“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 DHS page offers links to government websites that explain how to access benefits including food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, Medicare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the “official website with information on all available federal benefit programs,” with a nonworking link to Benefits.gov.
WelcometoUSA.gov also boasts to immigrants that “[f]ree public education for children is one reason many immigrants come to the United States.”
Though the website appears to advertise benefits, new immigrants are not necessarily eligible for the benefits displayed on the website; enrollment in SSI and TANF may also serve as impediments to future immigration status adjustments.
Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, has taken a hard line against the federal government’s current open-door policy on immigrant welfare and believes DHS should take the Web page down.
“Some of these programs are clearly not available for immigrants,” Sessions told TheDC, “and it just creates confusion out there and suggests that if you can get into America, you can leave and get onto these programs, and from what we are seeing, many of these people are successful in getting on benefit programs that they are not lawfully entitled to.”
USCIS also offers new immigrants a guidebook to the United States, a portion of which details federal and state assistance programs including Medicare, Medicaid, TANF, food stamps, SSI and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The guide, available online and in print, is called “Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants.”
“Most hospitals are required by federal law to treat patients with a medical emergency even if the person cannot pay,” the guide tips. It goes on to advise that while “[y]ou or members of your family may be eligible for other federal benefits” it depends on “your immigration status, length of time in the U.S., and income.”
In fiscal year 2011, 0.068 percent of visa applications—7,069 out of 10.37 million immigrant and non-immigrant applications processed by the State Department—were denied due to a dependency risk.
Sessions noted that there is little enforcement of regulations that would ensure new immigrants are self-sufficient.
“From what we’ve learned from our inquiries from the government is that there’s virtually no enforcement—no attempt, no enforcement—of the need for the immigrant to be self-sustaining,” he said. “They’re turning down almost nobody because they don’t have a record, they’re not going to be able to take care of themselves. They’re turning down almost no one on the basis that they can’t take care of themselves financially, and the facts show very large numbers can’t. And very large numbers are getting benefits virtually as soon as they arrive in the country, and the government is advertising for them to do so.”
According to a recent analysis of census data by the Center for Immigration Studies, 36 percent of immigrant heads of households, both legal and illegal, used at least one form of welfare in 2010, compared to 23 percent of native born heads of household.
The heads of household from Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic constituted the highest users of welfare: 57 percent, 55 percent and 54 percent, respectively. The heads of households with the lowest participation were from Canada at 13 percent, Germany at 10 percent, and the United Kingdom at 6 percent.