Exclusive: Messer Bill Would End ‘Illegal Immigrant Bonus’ in Grants
Indiana congressman wants only U.S. citizens and legal residents counted for apportioning funding under population-based programs
Federal funding based on population would exclude illegal immigrants from the count under a bill proposed by a congressman from Indiana.
The proposal, drafted by Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), would count only citizens and legal permanent residents for more than 130 national programs that use U.S. Census Bureau data in formulas to apportion funding to state or local governments by the federal government.
“No locality should get an illegal immigrant bonus, which is what can happen under current law,” he told LifeZette.
Messer, who is running for the Senate and is locked in a tough primary fight with fellow Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), said he got the idea for the Funding Citizens First Act after President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it would include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census.
"I applaud that change," Messer said. "I think it's completely appropriate that we know how many citizens reside in our country, and how many citizens reside in each state and each community across the country … My new legislation would go a step further to use this new citizenship data to stop U.S. taxpayers from subsidizing sanctuary cities and states."
According to figures provided by Messer's congressional office, the federal government determines some $690 billion in funding based on census data that includes all residents, whether citizens or noncitizens, legal or illegal immigrants.
"That's a really interesting idea because it would serve as a major disincentive to provide any sort of benefits to illegal aliens."
Messer (pictured above) would change the formula to count only citizens, as determined by the next official census and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data on green cards.
Messer offers as an example a comparison of San Jose, California, and Indianapolis in his home state. Both cities have similar populations, but San Jose has an estimated 180,000 illegal immigrants — some 66 percent more than the entire state of Indiana.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said Messer's bill could provide a reason for local officials in "sanctuary' jurisdictions to reverse course.
"That's a really interesting idea because it would serve as a major disincentive to provide any sort of benefits to illegal aliens," she said.
“It’s not surprising, he’s in an interesting primary,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, who said Monday that his group supports the bill.
Messer and Rokita both have B-plus grades in the NumbersUSA legislative scorecard for the current session of Congress. The man they want to replace, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), has a C-plus.
The prospects for Messer's bill are far from certain, however. The Trump administration's decision to even ask about citizenship on the census form prompted several states to sue.
"I'm sure that Democrats will try to block it, and they seem to hold the trump card in the Senate," said Vaughan, whose organization favors lower immigration levels.
But Messer said he is confident that he can get the bill moving.
"It's the right thing to do for our country," he said. "It's common sense. And I think the vast majority of [not only] Hoosiers — but the vast majority of Americans — would believe that their taxpayer dollars should go to help U.S. citizens, not folks who are here illegally."
But Messer acknowledged that the bill will not pass without a fight.
"Those that support sanctuary city policies will probably scream very loudly," he said.
This is not the first time Messer has pressed for reform on the immigration front. He lobbied to close a loophole that allowed illegal immigrants to collect a cash benefit — known as the additional child tax credit — by filing a tax return with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN).
The tax cut passed by Congress in December included a version of Messer's proposal to require a Social Security number — available to citizens and legal residents — in order to collect the credit. The version that became law requires any child receiving the credit to have a Social Security number.
"This president's shown he's willing to take on tough fights," he said. "I've worked with him to get tough on immigration policy, and I'm optimistic we can get this done.