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Immigrants Being Pressured To Repay Benefits

Mon., Dec. 22, 1997

U.S. immigrants nationwide and abroad are being pressured by federal and state authorities to give back health and welfare benefits they legally were entitled to receive, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

Officials within the State Department and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, along with federal immigration judges and numerous state agencies, have pushed for repayment, the newspaper said.

In some instances, immigrants who temporarily had left the United States were prevented from returning until they agreed to pay off their “debt,” the Times said, citing interviews and government documents.

Immigrants also were told they could improve their chances of obtaining visas or green cards for themselves or family members if they repaid past benefit payments.

Such practices have spawned two class actions in California and have generated concern at the federal Department of Health and Human Services, where officials worry whether the practice violates the privacy rights of immigrants.

Last year, California recovered $1 million from such repayments.


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