Sessions and Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) wrote to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in August and again in September to provide information about whether this legal requirement is being carried out. In September, they gave her a new deadline of Oct. 1 to reply, but that date came and went on Monday without any response from DHS.
The senators have been seeking answers to their questions about the so-called "public charge" law since reports surfaced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was encouraging Mexican immigrants to enroll in the federal food stamp program. They said that should be illegal under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that immigrants cannot be accepted if they are likely to become a public charge.
Since then, Republicans have learned that the government is only assessing whether immigrants can use the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or may seek long-term aid under Medicaid, but is not examining whether they may use dozens of other federal programs.
A Sessions aide added that guidance issued by DHS allows visa applicants to benefit from several Medicaid benefits, children's health insurance, housing, energy, educational and job training programs without putting at risk their visa application.
This aide told The Hill on Tuesday that the GOP has also learned from the State Department that there were 10 million visa applications in fiscal 2011, and that only 7,000 were denied under the public charge rules. That amounts to a rejection rate of just 0.07 percent, which the aide said seems small given estimates that there are two million visa holders using federal aid programs.
The GOP is also noting a study by the Center for Immigration Studies that said in 2010, 36 percent of "immigrant-headed households" used at least one federal welfare program, significantly more than the 23 percent for citizen-headed households that used these programs. Taken together, Republicans believe that DHS has the data to show that it is allowing people to enter the United States who are likely to use federal programs, but is not sharing it.
"Basic annual data on visa applications is easily and readily producible," Sessions said. "But yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security missed yet another deadline to provide this info as requested by four Senate committees."
Aside from Sessions, the three GOP senators seeking information from DHS are the ranking members of the Senate committees on Agriculture (Roberts), Finance (Hatch), and Judiciary (Grassley).