Trump admin starts warning immigrants they’ll have to repay welfare benefits

Acting Director of US Customs and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli takes his oath of office. (USCIS)

Washington D.C. – Federal immigration officials will start warning immigrants into the United States and their sponsors that they will be required to repay every dollar of means-tested welfare benefits that the immigrant receives, according to the new acting director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli.

The implementation of the new warning comes after President Donald Trump released a memorandum directing relevant federal agencies to begin implementing new rules and procedures to comply with federal law.

The President’s memorandum says, “Currently, agencies are not adequately enforcing” federal requirements.

Under federal law, if an immigrant applies for means-tested benefits, such as SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), the financial resources of the sponsor of that immigrant, as well as the immigrants resources, must be used to determine eligibility.

Also, under the law, if an immigrant receives means-tested welfare benefits, the government or non-government entity must go to the sponsor of that immigrant to collect repayment.

“Our officers must remind applicants and sponsors that the Affidavit of Support is a legal and enforceable contract between the sponsor and the federal government,” said Cucinnelli in a written statement.

“The sponsor must be willing and able to financially support the intending immigrant as outlined by law and regulations. If the sponsored immigrant receives any federal means-tested public benefits, the sponsor will be expected to reimburse the benefits-granting agency for every dollar of benefits received by the immigrant.”

“The President has made it a priority to ensure that every individual who seeks to come to the United States is self-sufficient, temporarily or permanently. The principle of self-sufficiency has been enshrined in our immigration laws since the 1800s, and we as an agency must ensure that immigrants who become part of this great country abide by this principle,” concluded Cuccinelli.

Opponents of the Trump administration on this issue have argued that requiring immigrants or their sponsors to repay welfare benefits they use has a “chilling effect” on immigration and that it gives an unfair advantage to immigrants and sponsors with greater resources to care for themselves.

While the federal law requiring repayment of welfare benefits has remained in place over the past two-plus decades, it has seldom been enforced since 1996 and most federal agencies have not updated rules and procedures, letting enforcement mechanisms atrophy.

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