Proposal would bar benefits to undocumented immigrants

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Capital News Service
LANSING – A proposed constitutional amendment would ban undocumented immigrants from receiving public assistance from the state.
Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, the sponsor of the proposal, said the main goal is to make sure state funds go to legal residents who receive assistance, not to people who are in the state illegally.
According to Hune, many public assistance programs, like the Food Assistance Program, don’t offer benefits to undocumented immigrants. He wants to make that a permanent mandate for all state-run programs.
“This is already being done by many programs but we want to tie it in to the state constitution,” Hune said.
Anika Fassia, policy analyst at the Michigan League for Human Services, said that the resolution would reduce an undocumented immigrant’s eligibility to receive emergency medical treatment, among other benefits.
Fassia said undocumented immigrants can receive assistance for emergency medical services through Medicaid.  Pregnant women can also receive outpatient prenatal care through the Maternity Outpatient Medical Services program.
Those programs don’t require verification of U.S. citizenship, which could change under the proposed amendment.
Susan Reed, lead attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in Kalamazoo, said that any hospital participating in Medicaid is obligated to provide emergency care under federal law.
According to Reed, hospitals receive around 30 percent of the funding for such care in the Emergency Services Only Medicaid program from the state, with the rest coming from the federal government.
Reed also said that the state is obligated to provide emergency medical service under the federal Social Security Act.
If the amendment passes it would create “serious legal uncertainty about hospitals’ ability to receive payment for these emergency services,” Reed said.
But medical care wouldn’t be the only programs affected.
Fassia said, “If this resolution outlaws all public assistance to undocumented immigrants, it could affect any program that receives money from the state.”
According to Fassia, that could prevent undocumented immigrants from using emergency meal programs and even shelters that get state funding.
Reed said, “Nobody knows who this would affect.”
She also said that if “public assistance” were to include shelters and soup kitchens, it could create “huge potential for racial profiling.
“Many of the people that use things like shelters have no identification regardless of immigration status,” Reed said.  “People could be turned away if they are even suspected of being an undocumented immigrant.”
Fassia said it’s hard to say what impact the amendment would have on the state economy but noted that “providing these services would allow these immigrants to work and contribute.”
Hune said that it is “hard to quantify” how much money undocumented immigrants have received through public assistance but said that he is confident the amendment would help the state’s economy and residents.
“If illegal aliens aren’t receiving public assistance, then there is more money going to the state and its citizens that are here legally,” Hune said.  “We need to make certain our citizens are catered to first.”
However according to Reed, the proposal would have little effect on the economy.
“Policies like this don’t save the state significant money and just send an unwelcoming message to all immigrants,” Reed said.
The resolution is pending in the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee.  It would need to pass both the Senate and the House and to win voter approval at a statewide election.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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