While the focus of the benefits that President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration would extend to millions has centered on work permits, many also are likely to qualify for a large range of federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare, according to the Washington Post.
The president’s executive action stands to spare roughly 5 million people – about half of the undocumented population -- in the U.S. illegally from deportation as, in the president’s words last week, his administration shifts enforcement efforts against "felons, not families."
The moves, affecting mostly parents and young people, marked the most sweeping changes to the nation's fractured immigration laws in nearly three decades.
It broadens the scope of undocumented immigrants who qualify for a program launched in 2012 that targeted young people brought to the United States as children, and also extends the suspension of deportation to undocumented immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
Many who receive such “deferred action” or “parole” status can obtain work permits and apply for a driver’s license, significantly changing their lives and expanding opportunities.
But a White House official confirmed to the Washington Post that many of those who are eligible for a deportation waiver under the new executive order also would likely qualify to get Social Security, Medicare, as well as survivor and disability benefits.
That is because people who pay taxes are considered "lawfully present" in the United States.
"If they pay in, they can draw," White House spokesman Shawn Turner emailed The Post.
The newspaper reported that Turner stressed that the executive action beneficiaries would not be able to get federal benefits such as student financial aid, food stamps, housing subsidies, or buy health insurance through the federal health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act.
Many supporters of more lenient policies for undocumented immigrants laud giving them breaks and greater access to such safety nets, saying that they contribute to their communities, pay taxes, and yet are left on the margins when it comes to access to government services and benefits.
But those who favor stricter immigration enforcement, and who oppose Obama’s executive action, argue that giving undocumented immigrants a break and taxpayer-funded benefits amounts to rewarding law breakers, and will encourage more people to violate U.S. immigration laws.
“Most of these folks will be eligible for a smorgasbord of benefits,” said Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “The Obama legal team has scrutinized all those [statutes and policies] and identified the loopholes. Many of the details [in rules about benefits] just say you have to have a lawful presence, not that you don’t have to be a qualified alien.”
“Congress never intended for illegal immigrants to get public benefits,” Dane said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.