Sessions rejects USDA claim that it is not looking to get more Mexican immigrants on food stamps

"For instance, there is the Spanish radio 'novella' — taken down only a week ago after criticism — whose entire premise is pressuring an individual to accept food stamps benefits despite her protestations," Sessions wrote. "Your department provides a document on how to 'overcome the word "No" ' and awarded a recruitment worker for overcoming people's 'mountain pride.'

"There is even a promotional guide suggesting those targeted for enrollment harm their communities by not accepting benefits: 'Each $5 dollars in new SNAP benefits generates almost twice that amount in economic activity for the community. ... Everyone wins when eligible people take advantage of benefits to which they are entitled.' "

In light of this evidence, Sessions asked Vilsack to "at once eliminate all materials, training and recruitment efforts that contradict your above statement."

Vilsack's Sept. 12 letter to Sessions said USDA has held 29 health fairs and other events over the last eight years with the Mexican government on what Vilsack called the "Mexico-U.S. Partnership for Nutrition Assistance Initiative." But it also notes that there have been 91 meetings between U.S. and Mexican officials in that time, and 31 other discussions and conferences in that time, which Republicans say shows the depth of cooperation on this issue.

Sessions asked Vilsack for more details about this partnership by October 18. Specifically, he asked for a summary of all meetings with Mexico on this issue, and an estimate on how much was spent on food stamps for non-citizens over the last decade. Vilsack's letter noted that the number of refugees and other legal non-citizens using SNAP grew from 640,000 in 2001 to about 1.5 million in 2010.

Sessions also asked USDA to clarify its understanding of the "public charge" law, which says the government cannot allow immigrants into the country if they are likely to become public charges that require federal assistance.

The public charge issue is another that Sessions has been examining, in light of information that the Obama administration appears to be exempting dozens of federal programs when it assesses whether immigrants are likely to need federal aid.