Photo: Ben Sklar
Photo: Ben Sklar

DeLay partially correct about illegal immigrants and benefits they get

Former Republican power broker Tom DeLay recently raised alarm about “illegal immigrants” taking advantage of tax-funded benefits.

DeLay took questions from MSNBC’s Kate Snow.

DeLay initially agreed in the Sept. 1 interview that “deportations are up” under President Barack Obama. Deportations hit a record high under Obama in 2013. However, the counts have since come down.

The former U.S. House majority leader went on to say the flow of illegal immigrants also has gone way up—a claim that as of that month wasn’t reflective of border-area apprehensions by the Border Patrol.

DeLay said: “Most of these illegals are drawing welfare benefits, they’re sending their kids to school, they’re using the public services. Many of them are paying taxes, I grant you that. But the impact,” he said, “is monumental.”

We wondered if he was right about government-funded benefits drawn by people who are here illegally.

DeLay, who resigned as majority leader in 2005 after his indictment on Texas campaign finance charges (his subsequent conviction was ultimately overturned), gave us a lot to consider.

Dani DeLay Garcia, his daughter and spokeswoman, told us by email that he wouldn’t be elaborating.

We recognized DeLay was correct about public schools serving children regardless of immigration status. In 2013, we found True a claim that the U.S Supreme Court decided in 1982 that non-citizen children must get free public schooling through 12th grade.

Illegal immigrants also pay taxes, as DeLay said.

Tanya Broder, a staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, said by phone that “undocumented immigrants have the same tax obligations as any other resident.” Broder emailed a 2015 report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan think tank, which estimated unauthorized immigrants in Texas in 2012 paid about $1.5 billion in state and local sales and property taxes. A 2006 report from the Texas state comptroller estimated unauthorized immigrants in 2005 paid $1.58 billion in state and local taxes.

The federal government hasn’t distributed welfare checks to eligible people in poverty for around 20 years; that approach was replaced in the late 1990s by targeted aid programs jointly administered by the federal and state governments that provide assistance with cash, food, housing and health care. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, also barred unauthorized immigrants from drawing benefits.

The act defines qualified aliens as people with certain legal documented immigration status, meaning unauthorized immigrants are not eligible.

Unauthorized immigrants aren’t eligible for major aid programs including Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, housing assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, cash assistance or counseling.

By phone, Jack Martin, author of reports on unauthorized immigrants in Texas said, “Illegal aliens are not eligible directly for welfare assistance” though parents living in the country without permission can sign up qualified children for aid.

All U.S.-born children are automatically U.S. citizens, even if born to unauthorized immigrants and Medicaid eligibility rules specify unauthorized immigrants “may apply for coverage on behalf of documented individuals.” Eligibility rules for SNAP say that a person who is ineligible because of immigration status may apply for U.S. citizen children.

On the other hand, Broder said, certain federal benefits are available to children regardless of residency status: the Child and Adult Care Food Program, elderly or disabled adults; the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Capps agreed those programs are open to unauthorized immigrants, but they’re public health spending.

We found validity to DeLay’s assertion that unauthorized immigrants use “public services.”

The 2006 report from the Texas comptroller listed nine publicly-funded programs for which unauthorized immigrants in Texas were eligible—which in 2005, totaled about $58 million.

As the largest health-related service used by unauthorized immigrants is public hospitals.

According to the act, county hospitals, public hospitals and hospital districts must admit anyone who earns 21 percent or less of the federal poverty level. That includes unauthorized immigrants, who the comptroller estimated drew $1.3 billion in such services in 2004.

Our ruling

DeLay said most illegal immigrants draw “welfare benefits, they’re sending their kids to school, they’re using the public services.”

People living in the U.S. without authorization indeed draw on public services including government-supported hospitals. Also, children of all origins attend public schools.

But counter to DeLay’s prime point, adults lacking legal residency are barred by law from government programs that fit the “welfare” category. Parents still may seek benefits, though, for their child-citizens.

We rate this claim Half True.

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