Hatch, Rubio look to tighten rules for immigrant benefits

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have teamed up on amendments to deny federal benefits to immigrants receiving provisional legal status as part of a pathway to citizenship.

The effort is significant since Rubio and Hatch are both key players in getting a bill out of the Senate, which formally began debating an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws on Tuesday.

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One of their amendments explicitly bars cash welfare payments from going to noncitizens.

The two say they fear the Department of Health and Human Services may use its authority to waive federal welfare work requirements to circumvent language in the immigration reform bill preventing immigrants with provisional legal status from receiving benefits.

Another amendment would clarify requirements that immigrants applying for legal status must prove to the Treasury Department that they have paid back taxes for time spent in the United States.

Rubio, one of eight senators who drafted the bill, cast his amendments as necessary to meet concerns raised about the legislation since its introduction. Rubio has repeatedly said the bill will need to be changed to earn his support for a final vote.

“Since the immigration legislation was introduced two months ago, many valid concerns have been raised about ways the American people could potentially get stuck with the bill of fixing our broken immigration system, particularly as it relates to federal benefits,” he said in a statement.

Rubio’s support is seen as crucial to passing legislation through the Senate, and Hatch is considered another key player.

He voted for the bill in the Judiciary Committee after he and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the lead Democratic sponsor spent days negotiating a deal on visas for highly skilled workers, a priority of the high tech community.

A third proposal from the two senators would require immigrant applicants to wait five years after achieving permanent legal residency before receiving tax credits and subsidies under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The authors say the amendment would align the five-year waiting period for ObamaCare with the waiting period for other means-tested federal health programs.

A fourth amendment would block immigrants not authorized to work legally from claiming their earnings to gain eligibility for Social Security coverage.

“The overwhelming majority of those that have come to our shores come not in search of a handout from American taxpayers, but rather in search of creating a stronger foundation for themselves and the generations who will come after them,” said Hatch.

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