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Federal Government Warns Sedgwick County Not to Ask WIC Participants About Their Immigration Status

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently warned officials in Sedgwick County, Kansas that their attempts to block undocumented immigrants from accessing the WIC program could lead to them losing federal grant money for their health department. USDA officials are requesting the county to stop any efforts to ask health clinic clients about their citizenship or immigration status.

In October last year, the Sedgwick County Commission requested the Kansas State Government to prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing the benefits of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program, even if it currently has no eligibility requirement around immigrant status.

Furthermore, commissioners ordered county staff that same month to create a new form to be filled out by everyone who uses the county health department. The form contains questions about people’s immigration status.

Information Only, Not Denial             

Proponents of the initiative reason out that the purpose of the form was to collect information on the people served by the county health department, not to block anyone from its services. This has prompted officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a warning, saying that such questions could place federal grant money for Sedgwick County in jeopardy.

Jeanette Montano, a regional WIC official for the Food and Nutrition Service, said the county should not be inquiring on the citizenship status of WIC clients, as it has nothing to do with their eligibility for the program. She added that if the county asks any kind of additional information (not outlined in the program) in any form from the WIC’s clients, they would be out of compliance and risk facing legal action.

WIC Eligibility

Expecting and new mothers are eligible for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program, which offers checks for items that include baby formula, milk, cheese, cereal, and eggs to clients based on their income and residency.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell said the USDA was making unproven assumptions on the form’s motives and effects, adding that taking federal money for such programs limits their ability to do things that seem to make perfect sense to them.

Civil Rights Consequences

Observers point out that the county’s attempts to seek information on WIC clients’ immigration status could be a violation of Civil Rights Restoration Act, exposing them to legal action and blocked access to federal money.

A letter written by counselor Eric Yost, which contained a draft of the form county commissioners had planned to be ready by January 1, was sent to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment last month. He urged them to take action against the county’s attempts to make arbitrary assessment on the community’s needs, despite the fact that the WIC program makes no consideration on citizenship.

To learn more about how this initiative and others like it affect your rights as an immigrant, get in touch with the immigration lawyers of Lyttle Law Firm today. Call us at 512-215-5225 for a consult and discussion on how we can help you.

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