AP Worries: Fewer Illegal Immigrants Getting Food Stamps

The mere election of Donald Trump has had salutary effects with regard to illegal immigration. Reportedly, for example, the number of people trying to enter the country illegally has dropped dramatically. The Associated Press hasn’t expressed an opinion on that trend, to my knowledge, but it is concerned about a similar phenomenon: fewer illegal immigrants are signing up for food stamps.

A crackdown on illegal immigration under President Donald Trump has driven some poor people to take a drastic step: opt out of federal food assistance because they are fearful of deportation, activists and immigrants say.

People who are not legal residents of the U.S. are not eligible to take part in what is formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

That is correct.

But many poor families include a mix of non-legal residents and legal ones, such as children who have citizenship because they were born in the U.S. In those cases, it is often an adult who is not a legal resident who submits the application.

So once again, the anchor baby is the hook.

Some now feel that is too dangerous under a president who has made immigration enforcement a priority. Throughout the U.S., there are accounts of people resisting efforts of nonprofit organizations to sign them up for food stamps, letting benefits lapse or withdrawing from the program because of the perceived risk. …

A 52-year-old woman interviewed in New York City, a Mexican in the country illegally, told The Associated Press she was motivated in January to drop a benefit that was supporting her teenage daughter, a U.S. citizen, purely because she was afraid of being in the food stamp system, which requires applicants to state their immigration status.

“I had been told that it’s OK to apply for food stamps. But, for the moment, I don’t want to take any risks,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of her immigration status and was introduced to AP through an organization that helps immigrants, the Mexican Coalition of the South Bronx.

Note that this individual had been told–it is not clear by whom–that “it’s OK to apply for food stamps.” The AP, on the other hand, says the food stamp system “requires applicants to state their immigration status.” This is technically true, but highly misleading. The “applicant” is the child who is eligible for SNAP benefits, not the illegal alien parent or other relative who fills out the form. The U.S. Department of Agriculture makes it very clear that an illegal immigrant can apply for food stamps on behalf of an eligible person–who is, technically, the “applicant”–without divulging anything about immigration status:

To ensure that only those who are eligible for SNAP receive the benefits they are eligible to receive, State agencies must verify the immigration status of only those individuals who are applying for SNAP benefits. State agencies are not required to verify the immigration status of anyone who is applying for SNAP on behalf of others in their household. For example, a non-citizen may choose to apply only for his or her U.S. citizen children in the household.

Under no circumstances may a State agency:

1) Require any information about the citizenship or immigration status of anyone who is not applying for SNAP;

2) Deny SNAP to applying household members because a non-applicant household member has not disclosed his or her citizenship or immigration status or Social Security number; or

3) Try to establish or verify immigration status through any means other than the procedures outlined below. DHS has primary responsibility to determine the status of non-citizens.

Why is this important?

Eligible persons have an entitlement to food assistance and the Food and Nutrition Act requires that State agencies provide fair service to applicants. Some applicants (typically eligible children in families where other adults are not eligible) cannot apply on their own. They depend on adult household members to secure assistance. States must be able to structure an application process that enables these members to apply for children without divulging information about their own immigration status.

It is hard to see how the federal government could make it any clearer, or what, exactly, the AP is complaining about.

The AP, to its credit, got a quote from Mark Krikorian:

Mark Krikorian, a well-known advocate for reducing immigration to the U.S., said their situation reflects the fact that many people who come to the country lack the skills to earn enough money here. “It is an attempted moral blackmail to say ’If you Americans don’t give me your money, I can’t stay here and feed my children,’” he said. “Well, it’s your choice. No one made you sneak into the United States.”

The article contains this shocking statistic:

About 3.9 million citizen children living with noncitizen parents received food stamps in the 2015 fiscal year, the most recent available data, according to the Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program.

Some of those parents are legal residents, of course, but no doubt the large majority are not. So out of more than three million, the AP found two who have given up food stamps out of an excess of caution.