What Services Should Immigrants Get?

No consensus on how to treat new legal residents under immigration reform bill.

What are immigrants in the United States entitled to? Tax breaks? Health care? Disability insurance? Food stamps? As the Senate Judiciary Committee wades through a major immigration bill, it is clear that there is no consensus, even among the bill’s sponsors, about how to treat the immigrants who would become legal residents under the legislation.

Two Republican members of the “Gang of Eight” that wrote the bill—Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—voted Monday for an amendment that would deny all immigrants who do not have green cards access to the Earned Income Tax Credit. In other words, they supported denying a popular poverty-related tax break to the millions of unauthorized immigrants who would receive legal status under their bill, including so-called “dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. as children. Two “gang” Democrats—Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York—voted against the proposal.

The committee rejected the tax-credit amendment on an 8-10 party-line vote, with all Democrats voting against. But its sponsor, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has a host of other initiatives up his sleeve that will touch off a difficult conversation about what people who migrate to this country should expect in terms of government services and benefits.

“I think that people that came to the country illegally, in violation of the law—they lived without these benefits. And therefore I do think it’s appropriate for the nation to say, if you choose to stay here, you’re not going to get benefits until you’ve become a citizen,” Sessions told National Journal Daily during a break in the committee’s deliberations on Monday.

Sessions has filed a variety of amendments that would deny legal status to immigrants who would be eligible for food stamps, children’s health insurance, Social Security supplemental income benefits, or health insurance premium tax credits under President Obama’s health care law. One or two of those amendments will likely surface Tuesday as the committee takes up the bill’s provisional-legalization program. Expect more to come during floor debate.

The Republican-Democrat split on Sessions’ tax-credit amendment illustrates a fundamental tension about immigration policy. For roughly 100 years, immigration law has dictated that foreigners who are likely to become “public charges”—meaning primarily dependent on the government—cannot be legally admitted into the United States. This country welcomes immigrants, but only as long as they don’t become a drain on the government. The problem is that it’s awfully tricky to decide exactly what that means.

In committee, Sessions said the immigration ban on public charges is not being followed. “Less than two-tenths of 1 percent are being turned down as a result of their low projected income,” he said. “They should not be allowed to immigrate to the United States if they are going to be a charge on the public. They should be able to support themselves without government assistance.”

Liberal-leaning immigration and human-rights groups worry that arguments like this could undermine what they see as the whole point of immigration-reform legislation: to bring undocumented people “out of the shadows” so the government can better understand who’s here, and regulate who comes and goes in the future. These advocates know they have fairly solid support in the Judiciary Committee but flimsier backing in the full Senate. When the immigration bill goes to the floor, fending off proposals to deny welfare-type benefits to newly legalized immigrants will be harder.

Advocates are anxiously waiting for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to release estimates of how many undocumented people will come forward under the bill and what kinds of services they are expected to use. CBO will also estimate how much tax revenue the newly legalized population will generate. Taken together, the numbers will dictate how much leeway lawmakers have in terms of offering benefits to new immigrants. The more restrictions, the more difficult it gets to regulate who gets what. Fewer restrictions mean smoother transitions and easier assimilation—but harder politics.

“People are curious about the CBO score when that will come. We can’t pretend that isn’t real,” said Carrie Fitzgerald, senior director of health policy at the children’s advocacy group First Focus. “But people get it—the idea that people should be covered. It’s cheaper to cover people rather than to pay emergency care.”

The rockier the path to citizenship, the harder it will be to convince unauthorized immigrants to come forward, said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza. “It’s like the death of a thousand cuts—you can’t have access to this, you can’t have access to that,” she said. “If there is not a majority of people who get in to the program, what’s the point?”

To many Republicans, the point is to keep gifts to the undocumented population—people who did break the law—to a minimum.

“The economy is completely different, which raises a whole new set of questions,” said Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action, the political wing of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. “How do the people who will have legal status almost immediately—how do they impact the job market?”

This article appears in the May 21, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily as No Consensus on What Immigrants Get.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.