State benefits must be saved for those who deserve them

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Gov. Dave Heineman, Attorney General Jon Bruning and Sen. Mike Friend of Omaha will probably draw criticism for Friday's news conference outlining a bill to deny state assistance to people who are in the United States illegally.

Most Nebraskans are kind-hearted and generous, but before drawing the conclusion that the promoters of the legislation are ogres, let's look at some of the details of the proposal, which will be introduced this month.

First, illegal immigrants are already forbidden under at 1996 federal law from receiving most state benefits. Bruning wants to provide a more consistent way for agencies to check on the immigration status of applicants.

Second, it wouldn't be a tool for the federal government to use to track down illegal immigrants.

Third, it wouldn't prevent anyone from receiving emergency medical assistance or short-term emergency disaster relief.

Last, even children born to illegal immigrants are considered U.S. citizens, and are thus eligible to receive state benefits.

Similar measures are already in place in states like Colorado, Oklahoma and Georgia.

Heineman said the state is being forced to face the issue because the federal government has failed to secure the nation's borders.

Unless they've paid attention, many Nebraskans might be surprised to learn that illegal immigrants might be able to obtain state or local retirement, welfare, health, disability, public housing, postsecondary education, food assistance or unemployments benefits.

Sen. Friend's bill would also repeal the 2005 law that provides tuition assistance to the University of Nebraska for children of illegal immigrants.

As Bruning said, "the budget is too tight for us to extend even 2, 3 or 4 percent to people who aren't citizens of our country. At some point, you have to draw the line. We draw the line at illegal immigration."

Bruning and the other officials are correct. Taxpayer dollars don't well from a bottomless spring.

Failing to deny state benefits to illegal immigrants cheapens the citizenship of those who truly deserve it. Making sure those who receive state benefits are entitled to them will help ensure that those benefits will be available when they are truly needed.

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