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Overview of Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs

June 1, 2022

The major federal public benefits programs have long excluded some non–U.S. citizens from eligibility for assistance. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), nonemergency Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and its precursor, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), were largely unavailable to undocumented immigrants and people in the United States on temporary visas.However, the 1996 federal welfare and immigration laws introduced an unprecedented era of restrictionism. Prior to the enactment of these laws, lawful permanent residents of the U.S. generally were eligible for assistance in a manner similar to U.S. citizens. Once the laws were implemented, most lawfully residing immigrants were barred from receiving assistance under the major federal benefits programs for five years or longer.Even where eligibility for immigrants was preserved by the 1996 laws or restored by subsequent legislation, many immigrant families hesitate to enroll in critical health care, job-training, nutrition, and cash assistance programs due to fear and confusion caused by the laws' complexity and other intimidating factors. As a result, the participation of immigrants in public benefits programs decreased sharply after passage of the 1996 laws, causing severe hardship for many low-income immigrant families who lacked the support available to other low-income families.Efforts to address the chilling effects and confusion have continued since that time. The Trump administration's exclusionary policies compounded the problem, making it even more difficult to ensure that eligible immigrants and their family members would secure services.This article focuses on eligibility and other rules governing immigrants' access to federal public benefits programs. Many states have attempted to fill some of the gaps in noncitizen coverage resulting from the 1996 laws, either by electing federal options to cover more eligible noncitizens or by spending state funds to cover at least some of the immigrants who are ineligible for federally funded services.In determining an immigrant's eligibility for benefits, it is necessary to understand the federal rules as well as the rules of the state in which an immigrant resides. Updates on federal and state rules are available on NILC's website.

The SCOTUS Shortlist and Immigration: What Their Previous Rulings Reveal

February 18, 2022

Based on public reporting, President Joe Biden has identified a shortlist of highly credentialed and exceptionally well-qualified Black women – Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Justice Leondra Kruger, and Judge J. Michelle Childs – to serve on the United States Supreme Court following Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement. With distinguished service in private practice, public service, and on the bench, each of these women would bring a wealth of diverse experience to the Court.Given the increasing frequency with which federal courts are called upon to resolve questions of immigration law and immigrants' rights, it is in the immigrant justice movement's interest to do the same. Immigrant justice advocates understand the impact Supreme Court decisions have firsthand – from positive rulings on DACA and the census to negative decisions on the Muslim Ban and Remain in Mexico. And while this nominee will not alter the current balance of the Supreme Court, she will have a hand in shaping the law around immigrants' rights for decades to come.At this crucial moment, the National Immigration Law Center has carefully researched and analyzed each potential nominee's past rulings in immigration-related cases. This report outlines those findings.

State Immigrant Rights Highlights 2021: Advancing Community Health and Well-Being

January 14, 2022

This report highlights the immigrant inclusive laws enacted in 2021, as well as some pending bills and campaigns. During this time, states adopted policies improving access to health care, higher education, and professional licenses for immigrants; protecting the rights of workers and tenants; investing in access to counsel; strengthening driver and consumer privacy; and limiting local entanglement in federal immigration enforcement efforts.As Congress considers options for providing a pathway to permanent status or temporary relief to millions of immigrants in the U.S., states and localities have taken significant action to improve the lives of their community members, regardless of their immigration status. In response to effective local organizing, almost half the states adopted immigrant-inclusive laws and policies in 2021.

Food Over Fear: Overcoming Barriers to Connect Latinx Immigrant Families to Federal Nutrition and Food Programs

December 1, 2020

This report sheds light on why many immigrant families are forgoing vital assistance from federal nutrition and food programs and lifts up recommendations aimed at ensuring that all families and individuals, regardless of immigration status, are nourished and healthy.While the findings of this report are informed by a series of focus groups conducted from November 2019 to January 2020 (prior to the onset of COVID-19), the need to connect immigrant families to nutrition programs is arguably of even greater importance given how COVID-19 is fueling unprecedented food insecurity and ravaging communities of color and immigrant communities at disproportionately high rates due to unique barriers faced by families that include noncitizens.

Untangling the Immigration Enforcement Web

September 1, 2017

Immigrants are caught in a complex and opaque web of databases, related systems, and information-sharing mechanisms that facilitate immigration enforcement and erect barriers to their full participation in economic and social life in the United States. These databases, systems, and mechanisms often depend on the entanglement of state and local law enforcement or licensing agencies with federal immigration and law enforcement agencies.We hope that the following questions and answers will give immigrants and their advocates a better understanding of (1) how the exchange of data among agencies at different levels of government occurs currently, (2) how to evaluate the potential immigration-related risks and benefits of interacting with federal and state authorities, and (3) how to forge strategies and measures that will protect immigrants more effectively.

Along Racial Lines: The Genesis of Arizona’s SB 1070 Is a Cautionary Tale of Race-based Immigration Policy

October 1, 2016

For the authors and supporters of Arizona's most notorious anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, the existence of the United States as a nation was being threatened by unauthorized immigration. Specifically, this threat was understood to come from immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico. Their argument claimed that the nation could be saved from this threat only through the strict and punitive enforcement of the country's immigration laws, even by way of flagrant racial profiling. Using the words of the very individuals who authored SB 1070—and of those who share that worldview—this report unmasks the underlying racism that motivated such an egregious law.

Inclusive Policies Advance Dramatically in the States: Immigrants' Access to Driver's Licenses, Higher Education, Workers' Rights, and Community Policing

October 1, 2013

As Congress debated federal immigration reform this year, states led the way by adopting policies designed to integrate immigrants more fully in their communities. In the wake of the 2012 elections, with Latino and Asian voters participating in record numbers,1 the 2013 state legislative sessions witnessed a significant increase in pro-immigrant activity. Issues that had been dormant or had moved in a restrictive direction for years, such as expanding access to driver's licenses, gained considerable traction, along with measures improving access to education and workers' rights for immigrants.This report summarizes the activity on immigrant issues that took place during the states' 2013 legislative sessions, as well as efforts to improve access to services for immigrant youth.

The All-in-One Guide to Defeating Ice Hold Requests (a.k.a.Immigration Detainers)

April 9, 2012

This toolkit is designed to help communities prevent deportations by keeping local police separate from immigration enforcement. The essential link between police and ICE is the ICE hold request, also known as an immigration detainer. On the basis of ICE hold requests, state and local police hold people in jail longer in order to hand them over to ICE. Without police departments willing to submit to ICE hold requests, ICE would not be able to apprehend and deport so many people. Even if Secure Communities, 287(g) and the Criminal Alien Program continue to operate, they are only as effective as ICE hold requests allow them to be. The hold request is what actually allows ICE to apprehend and deport people. Several communities have succeeded in enacting policies to stop submitting to ICE hold requests, and this toolkit is designed to help other communities establish similar policies.