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Unsupported Claim About Biden Paying Rent for ‘Illegal Immigrants’


Este artículo estará disponible en español en El Tiempo Latino.

Michigan officials have said that only people who the federal government has determined are in the U.S. legally are eligible for a state program that temporarily pays rent for refugees and other qualifying immigrants.

But a super PAC supporting former President Donald Trump is running a TV and online ad that distorts the facts about the state’s rental subsidy program – which is funded with federal money – to claim that President Joe Biden “is paying rent for illegals.”

There is no evidence that unauthorized immigrants in the country are benefiting from the program. As of April, all of the more than 1,200 beneficiaries in Michigan receiving help with their rent had a legal immigration status, according to data from the state agency that runs the program. Over 80% of the beneficiaries were refugees or Afghan nationals who came to the U.S. through a humanitarian parole program the Biden administration established in 2021.

What the Ad Says

The pro-Trump MAGA Inc. began airing the TV ad in Georgia on April 24, and it was still running as of May 15, according to AdImpact, a political ad tracking service. The group also has paid to run the ad on digital platforms in Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.

In the ad, an actress playing a Biden campaign worker speaks with a man playing a 2020 Biden voter frustrated with higher prices for food, gasoline and rent. When the campaign worker interjects that “Biden’s helping pay rent for newcomers to America from around the world,” the disgruntled voter responds by asking: “You mean illegal immigrants?”

“I’m struggling to pay my bills, but Biden is paying rent for illegals? They get handouts and I’m paying for it,” the man says.

As the caller speaks, text on screen in the ad says “$500 a month to illegal immigrants.” A citation in the ad attributes that quote to an April 4 Daily Mail article that wrongly says a Michigan program – not a federal one, as the ad suggests – “gives $500 a month to illegal immigrants for housing.”

Trump himself falsely claimed in an April 11 social media video, “In Michigan, radical, left Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is handing out $500 a month in cash to anyone who accepts illegal aliens into your homes.”

Michigan’s Rental Subsidy Program

The Michigan Newcomer Rental Subsidy Program began in October as a collaboration between the Office of Global Michigan – which is part of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity – and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

The program provides some refugees and other immigrants legally in the U.S. with rental assistance for up to 12 months. According to the program’s website, those who qualify include refugees, people granted asylum, individuals with special immigration visas, victims of human trafficking, certain citizens of Cuba and Haiti, nationals of Afghanistan, and humanitarian parolees from Ukraine.

In addition, applicants must be a Michigan resident and meet income and employment requirements. If approved, the rent payments, which are made directly to qualifying landlords, are between $300 and $500 a month depending on the household size.

As for the connection to Biden, the program is being funded with federal money.

OGM officials told us the $9 million budget for the program includes $5 million via a grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as $4 million for housing support from the American Rescue Plan Act that Biden signed into law in March 2021. In April 2023, the board of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority approved using the pandemic-related funds for the rental subsidy program, which is expected to last up to two years.

At the time, the MSHDA said the program “will give refugees, asylees and other new populations from areas such as Ukraine, Cuba, Haiti and African countries the opportunity to apply for up to 12 months of rental subsidy assistance, helping ensure families successfully integrate to communities, become self-sufficient, and thrive.”

The Beneficiaries

Claims that “illegal immigrants” are receiving payments have largely been based on language on a Michigan state website about the program that says an eligible immigration status includes “individuals with a pending asylum application.”

As mentioned in the Daily Mail article cited in the ad, some Republican lawmakers have argued that would allow people who illegally entered the U.S. and applied for asylum as a way to avoid being deported to have their rent paid while they wait to appear in immigration court. Applying for asylum after being apprehended for illegal entry and placed into removal proceedings is known as defensive asylum.

However, people “with a pending defensive asylum hearing are not eligible” for the rent payments, OGM told us in an email.

It’s also possible for immigrants to apply for affirmative asylum, which is reserved for people who are already in the U.S. and not in removal proceedings. Generally, they must apply within one year of arriving in the country, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says the immigration status of the applicant does not matter.

When we asked about the possibility of a person with a pending affirmative asylum application receiving rental assistance, among other questions, OGM said in an email: “Only residents who are in the country legally as determined by the federal government are eligible for the program.”

Asylum applicants who illegally entered the U.S. or overstayed a visa do not officially have a legal status — although they are permitted to be in the country while their application is pending, Julia Gelatt, associate director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, told us in an email.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that anyone in Michigan temporarily having their rent paid by the state is living in the country illegally. Data provided to FactCheck.org by OGM showed that, as of April, all of the program’s beneficiaries had a legal immigration status.

OGM said that 245 of 485 applications had been approved, covering 1,242 individuals. Of that total, 537 individuals were refugees, and 504 were nationals of Afghanistan who came to the U.S. through a 2021 resettlement program called Operation Allies Welcome.

There were also 69 people with special immigrant visas, 61 U.S. citizens, 35 humanitarian parolees from Ukraine, 24 people granted asylum, seven Haitian nationals and five lawful permanent residents. State officials told us that the U.S. citizens were the U.S.-born children of immigrants.

We reached out to MAGA Inc. about its ad, but have not yet received a response.

A spokesperson for the super PAC also argued to PolitiFact that Biden is paying rent for “illegal immigrants” because the Michigan rental subsidy program accepts humanitarian parolees, who the Department of Homeland Security has said “are, by definition, inadmissible” to the U.S. under federal immigration law.

However, as the USCIS, which is part of DHS, explains, while humanitarian parolees — such as those from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela — may otherwise be ineligible for admission to the U.S., federal authorities have authorized them to reside in the U.S. for a fixed period of time and for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”

So, they are not in the country illegally, and subsidies paid to the landlords of parolees do not support the ad’s claim that “Biden is paying rent for illegals.”


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