Illegal Use of Welfare Can Justify Fee Waivers for Haitian TPS Applicants

By David North on January 22, 2010

One of the ironies of the new Temporary Protected Status program for Haitians illegally in the country on the date of the earthquake is that they can use illegally obtained welfare benefits to support an application to waive the $470 application fee for the TPS program.

I doubt that there will be much utilization of this quirk – there are some useful bars to the award of such benefits to illegal aliens in these programs – but the Department of Homeland Security seems to be unaware of the possibility of the illicit use of programs such as Food Stamps and TANF (the old AFDC).

I learned about this possibility while listening between the lines to a United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) question-and-answer session on a teleconference yesterday. It dealt with the minutiae of applying for TPS status.

When the presentation moved from filling out the applications to applying for a waiver of the fees, the USCIS spokesman said that those seeking the waiver needed to argue their poverty, and one way to do it would be to cite, I am now quoting the regulations: "Receiving a federal/statement benefits that is determined by your level of income." (DHS clearly needs editors as well as lawyers.)

The spokesman said it did not matter what program it was, just one that indicated a low income; as I recall, he mentioned Food Stamps, TANF, and Supplemental Security Income.

What he did not mention is that fact that with the exception of a single program (which he did not name) anyone eligible for TPS is automatically ineligible for a federally funded benefits program. (I happen to know something about this having done some pioneering research on the immigration/welfare nexus years ago for both the Ford Foundation and the State of Colorado.)

So why spend several minutes on this matter with the tele-assembled lawyers and advocates? I suspect that fee waivers, under some circumstances, in programs other than TPS, can be granted to applicants who are legally using welfare programs. DHS just had not noticed that this program is directly almost exclusively at illegals.

Interestingly, none of the teleconference people with questions asked about the benefit programs. More common was the question from several: what do we do if we have an applicant with no income in the States and no documentation of the lack of income? The answer to that was to get statements from supporting family members on the subject.

Others asked about the rights of re-entry for people granted TPS status. Without getting into the details, it sounded like some people with some brushes with the law can qualify for TPS, but not for the more stringent rules regarding admissibility. USCIS said don't travel overseas with TPS status unless you are pretty sure you can get back into the States.

Another quirk was raised by one of the USCIS lawyers. She said that being born in Haiti does not automatically qualify you as a Haitian citizen – under Haitian law, you must be born to at least one Haitian parent. There is also a naturalization program there. That Haiti is much less generous to the newly born in this regard than the U.S. is, well, that was not mentioned.

Also not mentioned was the fact that for the sum of $470 each, the applicants will have at least 18 months access to the legal U.S. labor market, a huge financial boon to the individuals. A useful precedent – that people borrow money to go to law school so that they can get access to the often-lush legal labor market – was left unstated and probably unthought, even though many of the lawyers on the line had, in all probability, done just that.

The one U.S. benefits program that can be used legally by illegals is the Women's, Infants and Children (WIC) program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are no questions asked in this fairly modest program about one's civil status. This is probably the case because the focus of the program in on the baby involved; if it is already here, it may be illegal, but if it is an expected one, is extremely likely to be born here and thus become a little U.S. citizen. The program provides healthy food for expecting and nursing mothers, and to their infants and small children; its eligibility rules are here.

Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this blog, please visit our Haitian Immigration overview page.