DHS Ignores Likely Fraud by Immigrants Claiming Benefits

Congress mandated in 1986 (the Immigration Reform and Control Act) that in order for immigrants to access social service benefits and driver’s licenses the benefit issuing agency had to check with the immigration authorities (now the Department of Homeland Security) to assure that the applicant was legally present and entitled to the benefit.

This resulted in the establishment of the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system. In 2016, DHS responded to more than 20 million SAVE inquiries – which demonstrates the enormous size of the immigrant population seeking benefits.

The efficacy of SAVE has been challenged by immigrant defenders – often with their major focus on illegal aliens – and it has been subject to several studies by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). A follow-up evaluation of SAVE by the GAO,  “Immigration Status Verification for Benefits,” was released in March, (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-204) The report notes that ostensibly, the SAVE system works efficiently, noting that even in cases which required follow-up records verification, DHS reported that its additional verification responses were 99.16 percent accurate. And, any adverse finding remains subject to appeal.

What is noteworthy in the new GAO study is that it found a major share of cases in which DHS informed the requesting agency of the need to submit additional information, because the status of the benefit applicant could not be immediately verified, those requests were being ignored.

The report notes, “,,,in fiscal year 2016, agencies that did not complete additional verification 98 to 100 percent of the time included a state children’s health program, a department of motor vehicles, a state unemployment insurance department, two counties (from the same state) responsible for elections and voter registration, a county property appraiser’s exemptions investigations unit, and a state health care services department. These seven agencies requested a combined total of over 1.7 million SAVE checks and did not complete additional verification over 245,000 times…”. In 2016, there were nearly 4 million SAVE inquiries that resulted in follow-up requests for more information, and in nearly 60 percent of those cases further action was not completed.

The GAO faulted DHS for inadequate follow-up in these situations and lack of adequate guidance to users of the SAVE system on the follow-up procedures.

While all of the dropped verification cases are unlikely to result from ineligible applications for benefits, it is probable that there are numerous instances in which immigrants or resident nonimmigrants are slipping through the lax follow-up procedures for benefit screening.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar

    Why does America need any immigration? We won WW II with only 140 million people. Today we have 320 million people and our population is stable–its 2.1 live births per 1000 people per year. Its scary that RINOS want to end abortion since that does not impact the population growth or shrinkage.
    In effect the USA will be a very wealthy country if we stay on this path. We will have 30% of people under 21, 55% between 21 and 65 and over 65 will be about 15% demographics.
    Also, ask yourself who want to come here??? Maybe the hardworking protypical hardworking immigrants. I don’t agree, Just look at the people who want to come here–
    1. millions say they are “refugees”. Most are the castoffs of 3rd world countries. Why are they refugees–maybe they are on the run from legitimate law enforcement.
    2. millions say they have special skills…um…that is really suspect…we get about 500,000 fully qualified people seeking life here which is okay but what about 2-3 millions with no skills. I see them wondering around malls—-many are really old people who don’t talk english and who certainly don’t work–where did they come from and how did they get here?
    All in all immigration is a real loser to the United States.

  2. avatar

    It is time for the Legal American Citizens to demand our government officials end any type of taxpayer-funded benefit to any Illegal or Legal immigrant who has not paid into our system, period. If they can’t support themselves in our country then they are not welcome here. Also, no more so-called Birthright Citizenship or Chain Migration.

  3. avatar
    don Richardson on

    In my area it is apparent that people are more likely to receive benefits if they speak good Spanish. I don’t know where they get the people who are working in the welfare office but most of them barely speak English. Kind of makes one wonder who is in charge of the situation.

  4. avatar

    Enforcement has always been the weakest link in any immigration reform package. This is why no serious reform can take place until the birthright question can be resolved to exclude the offspring born here of illegal aliens.

  5. avatar

    “Which demonstrates the enormous size of the immigrant population seeking benefits”. How many times do you hear from immigration advocates that immigrants are “not eligible” for benefits. The problem is that no one really checks and many states vote to give them benefits. California continues to do so while their financial situation circles the drain with huge unfunded pension and infrastructure liabilities. Same with the city of Chicago which proudly proclaims any illegal is welcome there and will be given all sorts of benefits, and meanwhile they are taxing everything under the sun and it’s still not enough.

    For the last month the broadcast and print media has published a lot of stories on threats made to Jewish organizations around the country. They all had spokesmen and commentators lined up a dozen deep to proclaim that this is the fault of Trump and his supporters.

    About a week ago a guy named Juan Thompson was arrested for at least 8 of the threats, but the media did not mention that he was a Bernie Sanders supporter. Now a Jewish teenager from Israel has been accused by US authorities of being responsible for “the bulk” of the rest. One of the Jewish graveyards supposedly vandalized with toppled gravestones was declared by the NYPD to be the result of “long term neglect or lack of maintenance” and “soil erosion”. But you don’t see those things being given a fraction of the attention of their original stories based on nothing but assumptions. Fake news indeed.

  6. avatar

    Let’s Put It This Way

    The food bank lines I’ve seen were mostly immigrant type folks….if ya know what I mean. The lines were long and there wasn’t enough for the legal Americans either…