No Crime to Be Poor: Defending Welfare Fraud Allegations in Criminal, Administrative, and Immigration Proceedings

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Allegations of “welfare fraud” and “perjury” impact low-income immigrants disproportionately and often have devastating immigration consequences if a conviction results. This practice advisory explains how such allegations and criminal charges impact noncitizens, and are actually more often than not based on benefit caseworker errors, misunderstandings, and miscommunications, including language and literacy barriers, confusing and conflicting benefits program rules, and stem from historically engrained racist and unsubstantiated assumptions about benefits recipients as “welfare queens.” Many criminal defense and immigration attorneys and advocates have in the past believed that such cases are ”black and white” if there is what appears to be clear overpayment of benefits. But to the contrary, most allegations of fraud and overpayment, both administrative at the county benefits or state level or in criminal proceedings, are actually defensible with sufficient investigation. Immigration attorneys and advocates can assist their clients in avoiding and defending such charges by collaborating closely with poverty law attorneys and advocates as well as criminal defense counsel.