ACLU Urges House to Allow Food Stamps for Immigrants

April 23, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Saying current restrictions are based on nothing more than anti-immigrant sentiment, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged the House of Representatives to take a first step towards repealing the restrictions altogether by allowing some lawful non-citizens to benefit from the federal food stamps program.

“As President Bush himself has recognized, restrictions on food stamps have had a terribly detrimental impact on immigrants in general and their children in particular,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “It’s tragic that, while immigrants support the food stamp program with their taxes, they cannot — because of simple prejudice – reap the benefits and provide adequate nutrition for themselves and their kids.”

The House is set to vote today on a motion by Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) to instruct the conferees on HR 2646, the 2002 Agriculture Bill. The motion would urge support for making food stamps available for immigrant children and persons with disabilities, refugees and legal permanent residents who have lived in the United States for five years or have met certain work requirements.

The ACLU urged support for the Baca motion — saying the prohibition on food stamps for immigrants is unfair, un-American and based only on coarse discrimination against non-citizens — but said that the motion is only the first step and that Congress needs to extend food stamp benefits to all legal immigrants without qualification.

President Bush recently acknowledged that the restrictions on food stamp eligibility for immigrants, enacted in 1996, have had especially dire consequences on non-citizen children. The Bush Administration welfare reform plan says that since 1996, “Research . . . suggests that immigrant children have experienced an increased incidence of difficulty in obtaining the resources to purchase nutritionally adequate food,” and supports restoring food stamps to those immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years.

“Unfortunately,” Edgar said, “despite this positive first step, the Administration has proposed nothing for immigrants in other contexts, and has even started to buy into the destructive myth that non-citizens come to the United States only for benefits.” Congress should use the momentum of this vote to get back on track to fix discriminatory restrictions on immigrant benefits in other programs as well, Edgar said.

The ACLU also pointed out that the restrictions hurt US citizens as well: non-citizen parents are often wary or fearful of applying for food stamp benefits for their children who, as they were born in the United States, are citizens. Such understandable fear and confusion threatens the well-being and survival of these children, the ACLU said.

The ACLU’s letter urging support for the Baca Motion can be found at:

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