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Can Immigrants Get Public Welfare?

By George Khoury, Esq. on June 27, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

One of the most contentious issues in the U.S. immigration debate involves the provision of public assistance to immigrants. Recently, during a rally, President Donald Trump riled up his crowd by stating that he planned on passing a law preventing immigrants from receiving welfare benefits for their first five years in the country.

This statement not only drew cheers from Trump's crowd, known to be anti-immigration, but it also drew much criticism. The criticism focused on the fact that a law to this effect has already existed for 20 years.

Clearly there is some confusion on this issue. Although immigrants are banned from federal welfare benefits, it's important for immigrants to know that there are some exceptions. Also, there are non-federal resources an immigrant may be able to utilize.

Pay to Play Citizenship

Under the 20-year-old law, immigrants are not entitled to federal public assistance, or benefits, until the individual has been in the country for five years. This eligibility requirement is intended to prevent immigrants from coming to the country solely to receive public assistance.

However, true to our nation's ideology, there are exceptions for refugees, children, and individuals victimized by crime or corrupt governments. Generally, the exceptions in place already provide for those immigrants that qualify to be eligible for limited federal welfare programs tailored to help by providing food stamps, and other assistance.

Public Benefits for Immigrants

While federal welfare benefit programs impose this five-year limit on eligibility for immigrants, many state and local social welfare programs do not. In addition to state and local assistance programs, there are private non-profit organizations that will provide assistance regardless of citizenship, residency, or documented status.

Even though it may seem fiscally unsound to provide public benefits to recent immigrants, doing so is much more likely to lead to a successful transition. By allowing immigrants the same resources available to residents and citizens, society on a whole benefits, as those denied welfare assistance generally are at a higher risk of needing more costly emergency, or medical, assistance, or worse.

For assistance with legal immigration issues, contact an experienced immigration lawyer as soon as possible.

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