GOP Bills Aim To Keep Covid Aid in the Hands of Citizens

By Jessica M. Vaughan and Jackson Koonce on July 6, 2020

Following enactment of the CARES Act, a massive outlay of pandemic relief funding for Americans and legal immigrants, several sanctuary jurisdictions quickly sought to extend this aid to illegal aliens, too. Two key members of Congress then introduced bills designed to prevent those funds from being awarded to illegal aliens. As lawmakers consider new payouts to help Americans get through the fall, they should make sure to include such safeguards in future bills.

In May, the "No Bailouts for Illegal Aliens Act" was introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) in their respective chambers.

The bills would require all state and local recipients of CARES Act funds to certify that the funds will not be used for programs that have the specific, exclusive intent of aiding illegal immigrants. Eighteen Republicans in the House jumped on as cosponsors.

Buck stated that, "With more than 40 million Americans out of work, it is unfair to send hard earned taxpayer dollars to non-citizens who entered this country illegally."

The bills are a response to several states, most notably California, that have sought to create programs to disburse public funds to illegal aliens. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the creation of a $75 million pool of funds to provide $500 payments for illegal immigrants. Newsom claimed the aid would go to 150,000 illegal immigrants, although California is home to an estimated 2.2 million illegal residents.

However, soon after the launch of the program in May, the demand for relief checks far exceeded expectations. The number of phone calls to organizations distributing the aid caused phone lines to crash. A Bay Area charity, Catholic Charities of East Bay, has reported over 200,000 phone calls a day from illegal immigrants seeking aid. This would suggest that Newsom either grossly misunderstood the size of the illegal immigrant community in California or failed to recognize the program's vulnerability to fraudulent requests for aid.

The public interest legal group Judicial Watch has initiated lawsuits in an attempt to stymie the state and local illegal alien relief efforts. In California, the court is awaiting Newsom's response, and in Maryland a federal judge has ordered Montgomery County (a sanctuary jurisdiction) to limit distributions from its relief fund to enable the court to review its legality.

The Cotton-Buck bills aim to prevent other states from going down the same path. They harken back to California's Proposition 187, a 1994 initiative that hoped to prevent public funds and services from reaching illegal immigrants. The proposition passed with nearly 60 percent support as Californians sought to stem the flow of illegal immigrants by removing incentives, such as the availability of government assistance in California. The victory was short-lived, however, as the California Supreme Court, controversially overturning the decisive will of the electorate, shot down the measure three years later. With the welfare magnet intact, the next 23 years would see alarming levels of illegal immigration into the Golden State.

As the economic damage from the pandemic shutdown continues to spread, lawmakers must redouble efforts to preserve scarce taxpayer funds for the benefit of citizens and lawful permanent residents. It is appropriate and necessary to impose conditions restricting the use of public funds to avoid payouts to illegal aliens, whether they are recent arrivals or long-term scofflaws.

The Trump administration has already limited the distribution of federal law enforcement funding to sanctuaries that prohibit local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with ICE on identifying criminal aliens. This policy has shown some modest success in motivating sanctuary jurisdictions to reverse or modify their obstructive policies. It's time to expand the concept to target misguided and likely illegal aid programs like California's, and to expand the scope of federal action to include limitations on how most forms of public assistance can be used — including all pandemic relief funds.