Days after being named acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Ken Cuccinelli issued a frank memo reminding individuals who sponsor legal immigrants of their obligation for “every dollar” of public benefits received by the new arrival.
“If the sponsored immigrant receives any federal means-tested public benefits, the sponsor will be expected to reimburse the benefits-granting agency for every dollar of benefits received by the immigrant,” wrote Cuccinelli in a June 14 memo.
Cuccinelli also instructed USCIS officers that they would be required to inform “individuals at their adjustment of status interviews of their sponsors’ responsibilities under existing law and regulations” to reimburse the government for all benefits claimed by the sponsored immigrant.
The memo is a clear sign of the former Virginia attorney general’s intention to implement President Trump’s May 23 Presidential Memorandum calling for actual enforcement of existing laws pertaining to immigrants’ eligibility for welfare programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Immigrants have long been prohibited by law from receiving most welfare benefits, but past administrations have either paid mere lip service to the law or simply ignored it. The presidential memorandum and a separate public charge regulation proposed by the administration last September are part and parcel of an effort to ensure potential immigrants are self-sufficient and unlikely to necessitate support from American taxpayers.
Unlike the public charge rule, which would expand the kinds of public assistance that can be considered when determining whether to deny an applicant a green card, the presidential memorandum simply enforces existing law.
Cuccinelli noted that other federal agencies will also begin to “develop and implement guidance on the presidential memorandum to make sure that agencies enforce these requirements” and then issued a thinly-veiled challenge: “USCIS will do our part.”
The American taxpayer can only hope that the other departments, like Health and Human Services, with oversight over benefit programs, will follow Cuccinelli’s lead by doing what they should be doing anyway – enforcing the law.