Monday, March 28, 2016

No, Undocumented Aliens are not About to Bankrupt the Federal Government Looking for Hand-Outs

Over the weekend, I saw a Facebook friend link to a video which he believed was the definitive proof that those "illegals" are just coming to the United States to live off the backs of taxpayers.  The video is a Fox News "Special Report" by Steve Harrigan sometime in the Spring of 2013.  Although the video is three years old, it is still making its rounds. A quick Google search revealed that it has been used by conservative causes to demand that politicians do something about these "illegals" living off the public dole. 

As I watched the video with a critical eye, I noted that it was short on facts, accurate information and real analysis, and long on misdirection and scare tactics.

The video focused on a woman.  I hesitate to mention her by name, since she has been made the pariah of the opponents of immigration reform.  Still, I cannot find one article on the Internet that defends her.  And for that reason alone, let me tell you about the story of Marita Nelson.

According to Harrigan, Nelson crossed the Rio Grande to enter this country over twenty years ago.  She has been receiving public assistance for over twenty years. She has seven mouths to feed, and the $240 per month she receives from SNAP (or as he calls it, food stamps) does not last through three weeks.  Harrigan claims that Nelson, who is fifty years olds, receives funds for public housing, government help with medication and $700 per month in Social Security.  There is some talk about her receiving some child support, but no details are given.

Harrigan then expresses complete surprise that there are privately funded organizations out there that actually help people find public assistance programs for which they qualify.  And Nelson has the temerity to urge people who need help to go look for it before it is too late.


Well, let's analyze this piece by piece, with reference to the actual law.  A thoughtful analysis shows why any fears are just unsubstantiated.  We'll start with Nelson's immigration status.  The assumption is that since Nelson crossed the Rio Grande over twenty years ago, she must be illegal!  Some conservative bloggers go so far as to say that she's criminal.

I hate to break it to you, but crossing the border without a visa is not necessarily a crime.  It is illegal, yes.  But, as the Immigration Courts and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement love to point out, immigration law is civil, not criminal (even though people in removal proceedings are put in "detention" which looks an awful lot like jail).  So we cannot conclude that Nelson is a criminal.

More importantly, we cannot even conclude that she is necessarily an illegal alien.  We do not know where she is from.  We do not know why she came to the United States.  We do not know if she is married.  People who crossed the border illegally could still qualify for asylum or temporary protected status, two legal programs under U.S. immigration law.  If she were in removal proceedings, having been in the United States over ten years, she could qualify for cancellation of removal, which would make her a legal permanent resident.  Perhaps she married a U.S. citizen and was grandfathered under an older law that would allow her to become a legal permanent resident.  Without more facts, we just don't know what her immigration status is.

But let's assume that she is undocumented, for the sake of argument.  Does her story give definitive proof that those pesky "illegals" will just pour across our border to step up to the public trough?

The first key to understanding this story is the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.  This act of Congress prohibited undocumented aliens from applying for federal benefits.  The act was passed on August 22, 1996.  This means that it applied only to people receiving public benefits after that date.  If Nelson has been receiving public benefits for over twenty years, then she would have been receiving benefits as of 1993, or before the passage of the act.  She would therefore have been grandfathered in, and thus not prohibited from receiving benefits.  The real point here is that her case does not mean that people who cross the border today or tomorrow or who crossed the border ten years ago can receive federal benefits such as SNAP, public housing or health insurance.

But let's go further.  We'll start with Social Security.  Social Security administers three programs: (1) retirement benefits; (2) insurance for becoming disabled after working; and (3) supplemental income for those who are disabled.  To receive retirement benefits, you have to be at least sixty-five.  At age fifty, Nelson is too young.  To receive disability insurance, you must have worked for 40 quarters paying into the Social Security system.  If Nelson were undocumented, it seems unlikely that she would have been working legally and the would not qualify for that program.  As for the supplemental income, well let's not forget that Nelson has seven mouths to feed.  Some of those mouths are likely her children.  She could very well have children born in the United States and thus U.S. citizens.  If a U.S. citizen child is disabled, then the child may be eligible for supplemental income.  But note that the benefits would belong to the U.S. citizen child, and Nelson might only be serving as the representative payee, who receives the benefits on the child's behalf and is legally obligated to use the benefits for the child.

The problem is that from the report itself, we just don't know.  Nothing is mentioned about her children, other than the fact that Nelson receives child support.

U.S. citizen children could possibly explain other benefits.  The SNAP benefits could belong to the children.  The public housing could belong to the children.  If she did have a U.S. citizen child who was disabled, then that child might qualify for Medicaid, thus explaining the assistance with medication.  But we do not know any of the relevant facts from the report.  Instead, Harrigan purposefully leads the viewer to think that the benefits are for Nelson herself.

The point is that a critical eye, armed with knowledge of the law, demonstrates that Harriman's so-called "Special Report" is nothing but fear mongering meant to stir up xenophobia, racism and hatred of those darned "illegals."  In reality, there is no danger that those who crossed the border recently, or who will cross the border in the future, are about to bankrupt the U.S. treasury looking for government hand-outs.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832
(571) 551-6069 (ESP)

1 comment: