Trump to Bill Sponsors for Immigrants’ Welfare Benefits
By Philip Wegmann – RCP Staff
May 23, 2019
Anyone sponsoring an immigrant who collects welfare benefits before becoming a legal permanent resident could be on the hook for the bill. That’s according to a new presidential memorandum set to be released Thursday by the White House.
President Trump will sign the memorandum directing federal agencies to ensure that any individual sponsoring a noncitizen must take financial responsibility for any income-based welfare benefits that immigrant receives.
The move is meant to promote self-sufficiency for noncitizens and preserve the social safety net for people living legally in the country, a senior administration aide told RealClearPolitics.
“This is a historic, transformative action to restore the foundational principle of U.S. immigration law: that those seeking to join our society must support themselves financially. Furthermore, those who, for whatever reason, cannot support themselves financially, must turn to their sponsor — not the federal government,” the aide said.
Meanwhile, Trump is again turning to his base and preparing to make immigration a central theme of his reelection campaign. To a candidate, Democrats with presidential aspirations have condemned his toughening of immigration policies as racist.
That was the reaction last week when the White House released a broad immigration plan engineered, and pushed, in large part by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. It was a non-starter, however, from the moment it was announced — which Trump as much as admitted at the Rose Garden unveiling.
Still, “we are presenting a clear contrast,” he told reporters. “Democrats are proposing open borders, lower wages and, frankly, lawless chaos.”
But this new step doesn’t require action on Capitol Hill where Democrats control the House. It is already on the books, thanks to legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
According to two different sources, Trump will marshal the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, both enacted in 1996. An administration official noted with a bit of glee that the latter became law with the support of then-Sen. Joe Biden.
“It always seemed like a no-brainer. Biden voted for it. This is a Clinton-era law,” the aide said. “This is about enforcing what is already on the books. We are saying if you are willing to sponsor someone, you have to be responsible. You can’t just bring in everybody. You have to be judicious.”
Now the front-runner in the Democratic primary, the former vice president wrapped up his official campaign kickoff last week in Philadelphia, billing his quest as a “battle for the soul of this nation.” From the beginning, Biden has painted Trump as a bigot and accused the president of “spewing hatred.”
Trump has not moderated his tone in response, and the administration aide told RCP to expect “more coming down the pipeline” on immigration from the White House. The action on welfare, the aide continued, “is part of that effort to change the tide on the crisis.”
Under current law, citizens can sign an affidavit of support to sponsor an immigrant, usually a family member. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, that signed document signals that an individual accepts financial responsibility for the newcomer. Under Trump, the federal government expects to collect payments for benefits such as food stamps, housing support, and health care.
The move “will dramatically curb ‘welfare tourism,’” the aide argued, insisting that illegal immigrants are straining the social safety net. The aide cited statistics showing that 78 percent of households headed by a noncitizen without more than a high school education use at least one welfare program and that 50 percent of all noncitizen-headed households include at least one person who receives health insurance through Medicaid.
On Twitter and the campaign trail, Trump regularly rails against illegal immigrants he describes as freeloading.
“I don’t want to have anyone coming in that’s on welfare,” the president told Breitbart News in a March interview. “We have a problem, because we have politicians that are not strong, or they have bad intentions, or they want to get votes, because they think if [immigrants] come in they’re going to vote Democrat, you know, for the most part.
“I don’t like the idea of people coming in and going on welfare for 50 years, and that’s what they want to be able to do — and it’s no good.”
That message was a central part of his campaign message in 2016, and the aide noted that removing illegal immigrants from welfare rolls “overwhelmingly polls well.”
“Even Bernie Sanders has made this point,” the aide said, “which is that our safety net needs to be saved for our citizens, our own people who are struggling and need these resources. We can’t be bringing in people who aren’t going to be contributing.”
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