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The ranking GOP members of the Senate Budget, Finance, Judiciary and Agriculture Committees accused the State and Homeland Security departments of prohibiting officials from considering the likelihood an individual would receive welfare benefits in determining whether to grant admission to an immigrant or change their immigration status.

In a letter sent Monday to DHS Secretary Napolitano and Secretary of State Clinton, Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Charles Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Pat Roberts (Kan.), said the departments' interpretation of the law undermines "both congressional intent and sound immigration policy."   

"It has long been a sound principle of immigration law that those who seek citizenship in this country ought to be financially self-sufficient," they wrote. "We were thus shocked to discover that both the State Department and DHS exclude reliance on almost all governmental welfare programs when evaluating whether an alien is likely to become a public charge."

The Senators said they recently discovered that departments were ignoring most welfare programs in weighing immigration applications, and demanded answers on the policies. They want to know how the exclusions are justified, and how many visa applicants in the last decade were denied because of the likelihood of becoming a public charge. They also asked how many aliens issued visas or admitted to the United States in the last decade ended up meeting the definition of public charges after admittance. If such data is not available, the senators asked for an explanation as to why it is not being tracked.  

Under immigration law, immigrants can't qualify for admission to the United States or receive a green card if they are likely to become "public charges," which are defined as individuals that are primarily dependent on the government for support.

According to a research by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), 57 percent of households headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal) with children used at least one welfare program, compared to 39 percent for native households with children.

The CIS study also found that immigrant households’ use of welfare tends to be much higher than natives for food assistance programs and Medicaid. Fifty-six percent of households comprised entirely of immigrants including non U.S.-born children are on welfare. Seventy-one percent of households headed by an illegal alien with children use at least one welfare program. Even before the recession, immigrant households with children used welfare programs at consistently higher rates than natives. In 2001, 50 percent of all immigrant households with children used at least one welfare program, compared to 32 percent for natives.

For more on the Senators' letter, read the full story in The Hill.

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Updated: Tue, Aug 7th 2012 @ 11:34am EDT