LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – In October of 2023, Michigan News Source first reported the Michigan taxpayer-funded Newcomer Rental Subsidy program put in place by the Michigan Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO)’s Office of Global Michigan (OGM).

What is the rental subsidy about?

The taxpayer-funded rental subsidy exists to provide temporary support for refugees, asylums and other “newcomer” populations coming into to the state. It gives the landlords of immigrants up to $500 per month for up to 12 months for rental assistance.

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As the months went by, the existence of the program spread throughout the internet, appeared in TV news reports and was shared on social media. As more and more people became aware of the program, many started questioning exactly who was benefitting from the program.

What the state says about qualifying for program.

In order to qualify for the rental subsidy program, OGM documentation on their website states that eligibility falls into specific categories: refugees, asylees, holders of special immigration visas (SIV), victims of human trafficking, Cuban and Haitian entrants, Afghan nationals, or Ukrainian humanitarian parolees.

Additionally, their documentation also includes “other newcomer” populations which they define as: individuals who arrived under the Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan (CHNV) program; individuals who arrived under the Family Reunification Parole Process for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and Columbia.

Website allows those with “pending” applications to qualify – and others.

The OMC criteria also includes “individuals with a pending asylum application” and the vague classification “other immigrant individuals” as seen below:

Some opponents of the program’s handling includes Michigan lawmakers who are saying that because of these two classifications listed on the OGM website, illegal immigrants are able to receive the subsidy – or at the very least it leaves them to believe that they can. The critics also claim that the program allows immigrants with defensive asylum applications to be eligible to receive the funding.

Defensive asylum claims make up most asylum claims.

Defensive claims comprised 97% of total asylum claims filed in fiscal year 2023, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Defensive asylum applications pertain to individuals seeking asylum in the United States as a defense against removal (deportation) proceedings. When an immigrant is found to be in the U.S. without legal status and is placed in removal proceedings, they can apply for asylum defensively to

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prevent their deportation. This process is handled by an immigration judge in the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and involves a court hearing where the applicant must prove they meet the criteria for asylum, such as having a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

House Republican Leader Hall calls out the Whitmer administration.

Michigan House Republican Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) said about the rent subsidy program in the beginning of April, “Gretchen Whitmer’s rent subsidy program makes handouts available to illegal aliens who were caught in the country and then claimed asylum to avoid deportation. They could get a year of taxpayer-funded housing – an incentive to stay in the country and in Michigan after making a frivolous asylum claim. Michiganders shouldn’t have their dollars taken to reward those who broke our immigration laws.”

A blizzard of letters back and forth.

Rep. Hall and Rep. Joe Aragona (R-Clinton Twp) sent a letter to OGM Executive Director Poppy Sias- Hernandez on March 27th stating their concerns about the eligibility criteria for the program and asked for a detailed breakdown of the program.

They received a response on April 19th. In it, Hernandez says, “People who come to Michigan legally go through an extensive federal vetting process by the Department of Homeland Security prior to their arrival.” She goes on to explain that Michigan implemented the Newcomer Rental Subsidy to “ensure the successful resettlement of newcomers coming into our state legally.”

In the letter, she also says, “We want to be clear: the Newcomer Rental Subsidy is only available to people who come to the country through legal pathways” and she cites statements that the agency has made via the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News.

Hernandez adds, “All of OGM’s service populations have lawful presence” and describes the agency approving 245 of 485 applications received, half of which are Afghans who aided U.S. service members oversees.

Letters don’t clear up confusion.

Hall and Aragona sent a follow-up letter to Hernandez to Whitmer’s OGM office on April seeking clarification once again about the program after being presented with repeated contradictions involving the program and having remaining unanswered questions.

Their letter says, “After reviewing your response letter and comparing it to both your office’s comments to reporters and the official published materials about the program, we are left with more questions than answers.”

Their letter goes on to say that their foremost concern remains the eligibility criteria for the program, including individuals who entered the country illegally and filed a defensive claim for asylum to delay deportation after they got arrested.

They contend that the statements from the agency to reporters are contradictory to information about the program provided on their website. In light of this they have asked for more detailed information about the program.

The letter says to Hernandez, “The statement in your letter that ‘all of OGM’s service populations have lawful presence’ does not refute the concern about defensive asylum seekers as even defensive asylum seekers who entered the country illegally are technically ‘lawfully present’ once they’ve made this legal maneuver until their claims are adjudicated.”

As of the publishing of this article, Hall and Aragona have not received a response to their second letter.

OGM responds to Michigan News Source about issue.

Michigan News Source reached out to Hernandez about the situations and sent her screenshots of their online documentation and the contradictory statements that their office has made. Her office said to us in a statement, “Thanks for the inquiry. The Office of Global Michigan only approves residents who are in the country legally as determined by the federal government. Applications with a pending defensive asylum hearing are not eligible.”

Meanwhile, Michigan Democrats don’t want want to exclude illegal immigrants from getting taxpayer funding.

As all of this is playing out, Michigan Democratic lawmakers are rejecting amendments that block illegal immigrants from receiving the rental subsidies.

Proposed legislation from Republicans has sought to prevent taxpayer dollars from funding services, grants, or programs for illegal immigrants – but the Democrats are opposed to such legislation.

The Michigan Senate Republicans posted on X on Tuesday, “Gretchen Whitmer and Democrats swear illegal immigrants aren’t eligible for taxpayer-funded rental subsidies. Yet every Senate Democrat just voted NO on our amendment to make sure.”

The senate amendment that the Democrats voted against said: “The funds appropriated in part 1 for housing and rental assistance shall not be allocated to or used to support individuals who do not have a documented legal status.”

Rep. Jamie Thompson (R-Brownstown) says, “It’s outrageous that some politicians would prioritize illegal immigrants over law-abiding citizens. The people we represent deserve better, and we will continue to fight tirelessly on their behalf.”