FACT CHECK: Did Trump Sign An Executive Order To Prevent Illegal Immigrants From Getting Welfare?
A meme shared on the right-wing Facebook page “Rowdy Republican” claimed that President Donald Trump signed an executive order that bars illegal immigrants from collecting welfare benefits.
“Donald Trump Signed An Executive Order To Prevent Illegals From Receiving Welfare,” the Dec. 8 meme said.
Trump did not sign an executive order that prevents illegal immigrants from receiving welfare. Illegal immigrants are ineligible for most federal benefits and public assistance, although their U.S.-born children may be eligible.
The White House reportedly drafted an executive order in 2017 that would have kept immigrants who were likely to utilize public benefits from obtaining green cards, but the executive order was never signed. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed a rule that would implement some of the order’s restrictions, but they apply to legal, not illegal, immigrants.
Federal law already makes illegal immigrants ineligible for most federal public assistance programs like food stamps, though there are exceptions for emergency medical assistance through Medicaid and disaster relief. Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) can also participate in Social Security and Medicare.
U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants may be eligible for federal programs, allowing some illegal immigrant households to collect benefits.
An analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which favors reduced immigration, found that average federal welfare benefits in the form of cash, food, housing or medical care cost $5,692 for illegal immigrant households, compared to $4,431 for native households and $6,378 for legal immigrant households in 2012. A 2018 study of 2016 data from the pro-immigration Cato Institute, however, found that immigrants are less likely to consume welfare benefits and generally consume a lower dollar-value than native-born citizens.
Trump signed an executive order in April that asked some of his cabinet secretaries to make recommendations on work requirements for public assistance and welfare programs. One part of the order said that, as a matter of policy, agencies should enforce existing laws on immigrant welfare use, but the order did not direct agencies to implement any new restrictions for illegal immigrants. It only asked secretaries to state how their agencies ensure that only qualified aliens receive benefits.
The meme may have misinterpreted a draft executive order obtained by The Washington Post shortly after Trump took office in January 2017. At the time, several blog posts made the same claim as the Rowdy Republican Facebook page – that Trump “signed an executive order that prevents illegals from using welfare.”
The draft executive order, “Protecting Taxpayer Resources By Ensuring Our Immigration Laws Promote Accountability And Responsibility,” would have directed DHS to establish new standards for deciding immigrant legal status and deportation based on whether immigrants are likely to need public assistance benefits.
Longstanding law makes immigrants who may become a “public charge” – likely to be dependent on government benefits – ineligible for admission into the U.S. or eligible for deportation. Immigrants are rarely deported under the policy and not frequently denied entry under current rules. Of 280,835 immigrant visa application denials in fiscal year 2017, 3,237 were refused on public charge grounds. That same year, 204,720 of denials were overcome and 2,016 public charge refusals were overcome.
Trump never signed the draft executive order.
“The public charge rule is about basically heavily weighting welfare use against an immigrant’s chances of getting a green card by more broadly defining what a public charge is compared to the past definition,” Matthew Sussis, assistant director of communications at CIS, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS), told TheDCNF that the proposed changes define government dependency “very broadly to encompass large numbers of working-class, fully employed people.”
The new rule would include non-cash benefits like food stamps and housing assistance in considering whether someone is likely to become a public charge. Currently, only cash benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are considered under the current public charge standard.
“It’s quite clear what that rule will do is it will deny legal status to people who would have otherwise been eligible for it,” Kerwin said. CMS opposes the proposed rule.
While the immigration rule relates to welfare benefits, it does not restrict illegal or legal immigrant eligibility for welfare benefits.
Sussis said that the meme may have conflated the public charge issue with the separate issue of illegal immigrant welfare eligibility. Public charge is “not about illegal immigration, it’s about legal immigration,” he told TheDCNF. “People will use the phrase ‘illegal immigration’ when they’re really just talking about immigration broadly.”
The Rowdy Republican Facebook page did not respond to requests for comment.
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