Have officials axed a requirement prohibiting entry to new immigrants likely to go on welfare?
Four members of the Republican leadership of the Senate Budget Committee are furious with the Obama administration, claiming that both the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are stalling in providing data on federal Visa approval for immigrants with a strong likelihood of government dependency.
The whole controversy got started when staffers noticed that the answer to a Q-and-A section on the website of the US Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency in regard to Visa approval suggested that people with a high probability of winding up on certain forms of public assistance were now being considered for Visa approval.
The four Republicans -- Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Pat Roberts, and Jeff Sessions -- fired off a letter asking for clarification in August both to State and DHS, because each have some form of oversight over Visas. Following a number of missed deadlines for response, the four sent out a press release on October 2, 2012.
“Basic annual data on visa applications is easily and readily producible. But yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security missed yet another deadline to provide this info as requested by four Senate committees. DHS, along with the State Department, has also refused to explain why departmental guidelines effectively waive the legal requirement that individuals are ineligible for entry into the United States if they are likely to become reliant on welfare,” said Jeff Sessions, Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee.
He continued, “Our initial assessment of State Department data on ‘public charge’ denials further indicates that eligibility standards are being waived. Given what we already know, and the otherwise inexplicable refusal for DHS to reply to such a simple inquiry, it necessarily suggests that the executive branch is trying to prevent the public from discovering its failure to follow U.S. immigration and welfare law.”
In early August, Senate Budget Committee staffers noticed that USCIS was using a new interpretation of something called a "public charge." "Public charge" is a catch-all category of welfare programs. Visa approval is supposed to be done strictly to exclude anyone that has a chance of winding up on public welfare doles.
At issue was the answer to a question on the Q-and-A section of USCIS website. The answer to, “What publicly funded benefits may not be considered for public charge purposes?” seemed to indicate that things like food stamps were no longer considered public welfare benefits.
As such, people with a high probability of winding up on programs like food stamps might no longer be automatically denied Visas by USCIS. It was following this revelation that the four Republican members of the Senate Budget Committee -- Sessions, Orrin Hatch, Pat Roberts, and Chuck Grassley -- fired off a letter on August 6, 2012, asking for clarification from both DHS and Department of State. They wrote:
We write to express our concern with agencies’ interpretation of section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) regarding inadmissible aliens. It was recently brought to our attention that the U.S. Department of Agriculture welfare programs.
It is our understanding that the materials distributed by the consular offices assure those being recruited that reliance on SNAP benefits, or food stamps, will not be taken into account when considering the merits of an application for a visa or adjustment of status.
Further review of Department of State and Department of Homeland Security protocols indicate that this policy applies to dozens of other welfare programs as well.“ Read the beginning of the letter.
So far, two deadlines set up by the four members of the Senate Budget Committee have been ignored by DHS and State. The second missed deadline on October 1, 2012 caused the most recent press release.
The presence of USCIS is itself disconcerting. USCIS, the DHS agency at the center of this storm, is normally an obscure agency in DHS. It has already been put in the spotlight because it’s been given a leading role in implementing the President’s very controversial deferred-action program (essentially administrative implementation of the DREAM Act, an amnesty program), first announced in the Rose Garden June 15, 2012.
The head of USCIS, Alejandro Mayorkas, appears to be a far-left ideologue who is also tied to one of the most controversial pardons by Bill Clinton at the end of his presidential term. He’s been head of USCIS since April 2009.
Mayorkas is no stranger to being in the middle of controversies. In August 2009, his deputies, acting on his orders, drafted a memo that seemed to suggest that the Obama administration would be implementing some form of comprehensive immigration reform internally through executive action. The title of this memo was "Administrative Alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform."
It listed all sorts of categories of potential illegal aliens and enumerated ways in which the Obama administration could act unilaterally and make them effectively legal. Included in this memo was the administrative amnesty Obama implemented in June 2012.
The USCIS was also the subject of an award-winning investigative series by the Daily, in which that publication exposed how pressure from higher ups was forcing the rubber stamping of thousands of Visa applications.
Mayorkas was a very successful bundler for President Obama in 2008, leading the way to his appointment to head USCIS.
Mayorkas also gained notoriety in the late 1990s, when as an Assistant United States Attorney, he found himself in the middle of the controversial commutation of Carlos Vignali. Vignali was a convicted drug dealer whose sentence was commuted in Clinton’s last days after only serving seven years of a fourteen-year sentence.
Mayorkas, as Assistant US Attorney, was one of those that recommended the commutation to President Clinton.
The House Committee of Government Reform cited Mayorkas, among several individuals, following an investigation of the pardon. The investigation found that Vignali’s dad, Horacio Vignali, had funneled several hundred thousand dollars to a number of California-area politicians prior to the pardon.
The four Republican members of the Senate Budget Committee believe that in their role as overseers as laid out in the Constitution they are entitled to an explanation. Christopher Bentley, a spokesperson for USCIS, said, “USCIS wasn’t able discuss the issues raised by the Senators." The State Department has previously responded that they believed most of the questions fell under the purview of DHS. The Obama administration will likely continue this game of feigned ignorance until the public demands that it be held accountable.
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