USCIS Appears Klutzy vis-a-vis WIC and Fee Waivers

By David North on July 22, 2010

There is exactly one continuing means-tested federal assistance program that deliberately provides benefits to illegal aliens and nonimmigrants – that is WIC, which stands for women, infants and children.

Yet WIC, a $5 billion a year means-tested program, has been totally ignored in the new USCIS proposed rules which will make it easier for illegal aliens and nonimmigrants to waive fees for substantial immigration benefits which was discussed in a recent blog of mine.

A hot item with USCIS these days is the waiving of the $470 fees for illegals or nonimmigrants from Haiti who were in the U.S. before the earthquake and who want to secure Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a specialized form of legalization.

Leaving WIC out of its instructions needlessly complicates things for fee waiver applicants and USCIS officers handling these requests. More broadly, it makes the agency look klutzy.

As with most interactions among government programs, this is complicated. If you qualify for a "federal-means tested benefit... your fee waiver will normally be approved" according to a recently issued USCIS directive.

But on the next page of that document it says "If your household income is greater than the Federal Poverty Guidelines, then you are not likely to qualify for a fee waiver."

This sets up an internal conflict that, apparently, is not visible to USCIS. You see WIC will give you its benefits even though your household income is as much as 85 percent over the poverty level. So one sentence of the new rules suggests you are likely to get your fee waived if you have WIC benefits, and another indicates that you can only get the fee waived if your income is under the poverty level.

What about the many WIC families whose incomes fall between 100 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level? The new rules provide no answer to this question – even though CIS has called this matter to the attention of USCIS officials.

We all know about the insularity built-in to various government programs; this is being shown currently in the Washington Post's fine investigative reporting of the intelligence agencies, and what I have cited here is a small example of the same thing, this time in the immigration field.

What is doubly odd about these new USCIS instructions is that while they make a major point that you can get a fee waiver if you qualify for a means-tested program, the only programs listed in the application are routinely off limits for illegal aliens and nonimmigrants, the kind of people usually seeking fee waivers – but USCIS leaves out the one program which is open to qualified illegal aliens and nonimmigrants. USCIS dutifully lists Medicaid, SNAP (the old Food Stamps), and TANF (the old AFDC welfare) programs, but routinely illegals and nonimmigrants do not qualify for any of those programs.

By definition, everyone filing for the Haitian TPS is either a nonimmigrant or an illegal alien, so no member or those populations are eligible for the three listed programs.

WIC is available to illegal aliens and nonimmigrants because its focus is on newly born or about-to-be-born babies, most of whom are, or will be, U.S. citizens. It provides nutritious food to infants, small children and to pregnant or lactating mothers. It is also, of course, open to low-income citizen and green card families. Its benefits rarely exceed $100 in specialized food coupons a month, if that.

I do not, as noted in my earlier blog, think that there is any need to create a new form for fee waivers; the government has been handling them for decades without the need for an application form. But if the government is going to do this, it should look beyond narrow agency walls and take into account other government programs that relate to the potential eligibility of those seeking the fee waivers.

Besides, if you are an agency that typically works with illegal and nonimmigrant aliens, you should know all about other major, multi-billion dollar programs that serve the same population.