It's been nearly six months since Donald Trump took office, and some families with illegal aliens get food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) while identical all-citizen families of the same size and with the same income do not receive them.
This is not a question of treating illegal aliens like other residents of this country, it is clear-cut discrimination against citizens and in favor of illegals.
This long-standing (and peculiar) arrangement is the sort of thing that one would expect to be corrected by the third, if not the first, month of a new get-tough-on-illegal-immigration administration, such as that of the campaigning Donald Trump.
I checked with the Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service this week, the $110 billion-a-year agency that runs food stamps and some other nutrition programs.
Two questions were on my mind: 1) does the food stamp program still, under a particular set of circumstances, operate with this anti-citizen bias, and 2) has the Trump administration made an appointment of one or more outsiders to help run the agency?
The answer to the second question came quickly: No, but there is a civil servant running the program on an acting basis who was placed in that job by the White House. Does an agency have to have a budget of, say, $200 billion a year before the administration notices its existence?
It took a little longer to get the answer to the first question, because the nature of the discrimination is subtle and a lot of professionals in the welfare business do not want to make the distinction between legal and illegal residents of this country.
Here's how the system works: Illegal aliens are not allocated food stamps, but if the family is mixed, with some citizens and some illegals, the mixed family still gets some benefits. States are allowed, to some extent, to pick and choose among benefit-determination methods. Most states have chosen a technique that does not record some of the earnings of illegal aliens, while always recording all the income of citizens.
Let's look at the system as applied to two similar families who live in adjacent houses; both have incomes of $2,400 a month, both have the same assets, both families consist of a working male, his stay-at-home spouse, and their stay-at-home toddler. The only difference is that one of the men is a native-born citizen and the other is an illegal alien. Everyone else in the two households is a citizen.
OK, so far. Now let's walk through Alice's special mirror, and see how the government handles the situation. It sees the three-citizen family as three people and says that $2,400 a month is too high an income for food stamps. It looks at the other family and sees it as a two-member family, because the man is an illegal, and then — here's the key — the government decides that only two-thirds of the family income should be counted, and that $1,600 is not too high for a family of two, hence the family with the illegal alien in it gets food stamps and the other family does not.
There are bands of income in which this situation plays out with different sized families, giving benefits to some mixed families, and denying them to all-citizen families of the same size and with the same income. For more on these strange arrangements, see the CIS report "An Aid Program that Routinely Discriminates in Favor of Ineligible Aliens".
That's the way it was under Obama, and after I explained the (admittedly bizarre) matter to the Food and Nutrition Service publicist, she told me that it remains that way under Trump.
This story is symptomatic of two larger realities. Both the Obama and Trump administrations managed to conduct big immigration operations to their own liking; think of DACA with Obama, and, under Trump, the way that enforcement people were given the freedom to do their jobs.
But Obama was much more successful in the minutia of immigration policy than Trump; for years I wrote about this little move to admit a small class of migrants, or that little move that prevented another subclass from being deported. We are not seeing that, or maybe not yet, with the Trump administration. You can't change policy, at least at the retail level, without people to write and push the new policies.
So an unknown but substantial number of mixed (illegals plus citizens) families are getting food stamps when equally poor neighbors, who happen to be in all-citizen families, go hungry.
David North, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, has over 40 years of immigration policy experience.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by the Center for Immigration Studies.