Fetch Me My Food Stamps, Jeeves!

By David North on June 3, 2010

James R. Edwards Jr.'s recent blog on the nation's self-inflicted conflict between fighting poverty, on one hand, and importing it through an Open Doors immigration policy on the other, reminded me of a ludicrous extreme of this internal tension.

He pointed out that there is a (slim) segment of the low-income population that is both poor enough to receive Medicaid (their income is less than 133 percent of the poverty level) but since their income is over 125 percent of the poverty level, they are wealthy enough to sign letters of support causing the immigration of their relatives. (If I had my choice, I would leave the Medicaid poverty level alone, and increase that barrier substantially when it comes to immigration.)

While the situation that Edwards describes is deplorable, let me cite a similar one that was considerably more bizarre.

Back in the late 1990s, I was at the tiny office in the U.S. Department of the Interior that worried about the country's island territories, such as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The CNMI consists of a string of islands, notably Saipan, due north of Guam in the Western Pacific.

In those days the locally elected Governor, Froilan Tenorio, was a staunch ally of the numerous sweatshop operators who exploited mainland Chinese women brought into the islands by the islands' own immigration statute (which, thank goodness, has since been replaced by the U.S. immigration law).

Tenorio, similarly, was a loyal ally of the now-jailed super lobbyist, Jack Abramoff; Abramoff, in turn, helped preserve the islanders' control of immigration policy.

In short, not an admirable person, but the governor got one thing right (as Edwards, I am sure, would agree).

At the time, the local immigration law made it very easy for families to import semi-indentured household servants from overseas, largely from the Philippines. Meanwhile, the federal poverty law made Food Stamps available to low-income families.

The governor found that some Food Stamp families had Filipino household servants. For understandable reasons, the mainland Food Stamp regulations were silent on the question. The governor then ruled that you could not be so poor as to get food stamps, and yet so rich as to have household servants. No servants in the future, he said to the Food Stamp families.

Given the islands' generally sloppy enforcement of their own immigration laws, it is not clear that the governor's ruling ended the practice, but he did change the policy.