The Lookout

American kids denied food stamps in Alabama under immigration law

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

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Protesters outside the Alabama statehouse in November. (AP/Dave Martin)

Some U.S.-born children with parents who are illegal immigrants have been denied food stamps under Alabama's new immigration law, Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen told Yahoo News on Monday.

Five people have called into the group's Alabama hotline to say they were denied food stamps because they couldn't prove they were legal residents, even though the food stamps are for their children, who are citizens.

Cohen says the civil rights group, which has already filed two lawsuits against Alabama over the law, will most likely bring another suit over the denied food stamps.

The law makes it a felony for a government employee to engage in "business transactions" with illegal immigrants, which some government employees have interpreted very broadly. Illegal immigrants have been told they can't pay their utility bills or even their taxes because it would count as a "transaction" with the government, according to Cohen.

Barry Spear, a spokesman for Alabama's Department of Human Services, said in an email to Yahoo News that it is not the agency's policy to demand proof of citizenship from the guardians of Americans who need food stamps. "We are unaware of any violations of the policy," Spear said.

Several parts of the law have been temporarily blocked pending the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on whether the law is constitutional or not. But the "business transaction" prohibition, as well as a mandate for local police to ask for proof of legal status during stops, were left to stand. Some Republican lawmakers say they want to amend the law this year, while a coalition of Democrats is trying to repeal it entirely.

Illegal immigrants are prohibited from accessing most welfare benefits, including food stamps, non-emergency Medicaid and cash welfare programs. Their children, if born in America, can access welfare programs as citizens. (The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that about 4.5 million American citizens under 18 years old have at least one undocumented parent.)

Last month, Kansas kicked more than 1,000 mixed-status families off its food stamp program when it joined three other states in adopting a stricter food stamp eligibility policy. A low-income family of five made up of two undocumented parents and three citizen children now has to show that its income is close to the poverty level for a family of three--not a family of five--in order to access food stamps. This is intended to prevent illegal immigrants from benefiting from food stamps, but immigration advocates say it will leave citizen kids hungry.

The Justice Department has sued Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah over laws that crack down on illegal immigrants, saying they interfere with the federal government's control over immigration. The Supreme Court will hear arguments over Arizona's SB1070 beginning on April 25.

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