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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde June 17, 2019

No, New Mexico does not give EBT cards to immigrants in U.S. illegally as they wait to see a judge

A man driving efforts to privately fund and build a wall at the southern border claims that New Mexico is giving public benefits to immigrants in the country illegally.

Brian Kolfage, president and founder of Build the Wall, Inc., called out New Mexico in a series of tweets this month.

"Did u know the state of New Mexico gives all illegals emergency welfare, no process like Americans go through. Handed an EBT Loaded with $1000, + $200 per child paid every month until their court date 5-6 years later. The Governor @GovMLG has a crisis and it’s costing Americans," Kolfage tweeted June 9.

"🚨 ALERT 🚨 New Mexico and maybe other states illegals are issued emergency welfare EBT cards with $1k a month +$200 for each child, for at least 5+ years until they see a judge. Illegals are asking agents ‘when do I get my money. SOURCE: border agents.," he tweeted June 10.

On June 11, he tweeted a video of people rushing from one side of a fence to another; he described it as an "invasion underway" and said about 1,000 people had crossed at that location, "all getting free emergency welfare from New Mexico!"

Is New Mexico giving immigrants in the country illegally Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards loaded with $1,000, per month, for at least five years? Not so, according to Jodi McGinnis Porter, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Human Services Department.

"None of these tweets are accurate," Porter said. "It’s simply unconscionable for Mr. Kolfage to spread blatant lies. New Mexico is fully in compliance with federal regulations and only issues benefits to qualified recipients."

Kolfage says information comes from Border Patrol agents

Kolfage told PolitiFact that his claim is based on what Border Patrol agents on the ground have told him. "The agents said it’s called emergency welfare and they bypass all rules," Kolfage said. He said that immigrants get the benefits for five to six years "because that’s the immigration backlog on court cases," but if they see an immigration judge in a month, they’d only receive the benefits for one month.

Kolfage said the agents he spoke to were unwilling to talk to PolitiFact because they are not authorized by Customs and Border Protection to do so. The agency’s press office declined to comment.

Kolfage on June 9 also tweeted a link to an April Breitbart post, authored by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. "U.S. law allows those who actually obtain asylum to qualify for federal welfare benefits, but now it appears that many asylum applicants may be getting them too," Kobach’s post said. He also wrote that "it appears" that many immigrants paroled into the country are getting EBT cards before their eligibility period. His post doesn’t specifically mention New Mexico nor link to data backing his claim.

SNAP/EBT restrictions

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally funded program to help eligible, low-income families buy food. Benefits are provided through EBT cards that can be used at grocery stores. The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the program at the federal level and states administer it, following federal eligibility guidelines.

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("Expedited SNAP" is an emergency program for very low-income families and migrant or seasonal farm workers; it allows eligible applicants to have an EBT card within seven days.)

We asked the USDA if it’s true that in New Mexico and other states, "illegals are issued emergency welfare EBT cards" with $1,000 a month plus $200 per child, for at least five years, until they see a judge, as Kolfage tweeted.

"USDA does not have an EBT program like the one you described," said Mike Illenberg, a spokesman for the federal agency.

Generally, immigrants in the country illegally are not eligible for SNAP, and consequently cannot get an EBT card, several immigration law experts told PolitiFact.

Aside from U.S. citizens, "qualified" immigrants can be eligible for SNAP; and some must meet additional criteria. "Qualified" immigrants include people legally admitted into the country as refugees, people granted asylum by an immigration judge, and people paroled into the United States for at least one year. (State Department says parole is "an extraordinary measure" that is sparingly used.)

Kolfage’s phrasing that the EBT cards are issued to immigrants until they see a judge suggests that this includes people seeking asylum whose cases are decided by immigration judges.

But the sole action of applying for asylum does not make someone eligible for SNAP. They are eligible for SNAP once they have been granted asylum.

Some states offer state-funded food assistance to qualified immigrants who are ineligible for SNAP. But Kolfage tweeted about EBT cards that are part of a federal program.

Our ruling

Kolfage said that in New Mexico, "illegals are issued emergency welfare EBT cards with $1k a month +$200 for each child, for at least 5+ years until they see a judge."

Federal food assistance benefits are distributed to eligible participants through EBT cards. New Mexico’ Human Services Department, which administers the federal SNAP program, says Kolfage’s claim is inaccurate. The USDA said it does not have a program like the one Kolfage stated.

People granted asylum are eligible for SNAP, but solely applying for the immigration protection does not grant eligibility for the food program.

We rate Kolfage’s statement False.

Our Sources

Twitter, @BrianKolfage, tweet, tweet, June 9, 2019; tweet June, 10, 2019; tweet, June 11, 2019

Twitter direct message exchange, @BrianKolfage, June 13, 2019

Phone and email interviews, Jodi McGinnis Porter, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Human Services Department, June 12-13, 2014

Email interview, Jennifer Moore, Professor of Law, University of New Mexico School of Law, June 13, 2019

Email interview, Carol M. Suzuki, Dickason Professor of Law, University of New Mexico School of Law, June 13, 2019
Email interview, Nancy Oretskin, Southwest Asylum and Migration Institute, June 13, 2019

Congressional Research Service, Expedited Removal of Aliens: Legal Framework, Updated Sept. 19, 2018

American Immigraiton Council, The Use of Parole Under Immigration Law, Jan. 24, 2018

Email interview, Mike Illenberg, USDA spokesman, June 14, 2019

PolitiFact, Man behind viral border wall GoFundMe fundraiser also peddled false news, Dec. 21, 2018

National Immigration Law Center, State-Funded Food Assistance Programs, last updated August 2016

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Overview Of Immigrants' Eligibility For SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, And CHIP, March 27, 2012

Breitbart, Post by Kris Kobach, April 29, 2019

Immigrant Legal Resource Center, What is Parole?, October 2016

SNAP eligibility guidelines

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Overview of Public Benefits Programs in New Mexico

U.S. State Department information on parole

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More by Miriam Valverde

No, New Mexico does not give EBT cards to immigrants in U.S. illegally as they wait to see a judge

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