Do we have a problem with immigrants abusing welfare?
One of nativists’ favorite claims is that mass immigration of unskilled, undereducated immigrants from third world nations leads to immigrants abusing welfare. Nativists also claim the offspring of such poor uneducated immigrants will become a permanent underclass and vote Democrat to keep ‘free stuff’ coming.
Nativists are notorious for using biased statistics to promote myths about immigrants, to push their immigration restriction agenda, so we need to examine this closely! 100 years ago Nativists were making the same claims about Southern and Eastern immigrants, the “new” immigrants of the era. The Dillingham Commission Report “Immigrants as Charity Seekers” goes to great length to convince the public that immigrants come to get handouts. Not much has changed today except that the racial overtones have been suppressed since Americans generally won’t listen to bigots.
The website Statistic Brain, using statistics from US Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the CATO Institute, reports on welfare demographics:
The U.S. census reports that in 2010 Hispanics were 16% of the population, versus 15.7% of welfare recipients who are Hispanic. Other racial groups are whites, 74.8%, blacks, 13.6%, and Asians 4.8% of the population. However, this is only part of the picture, as welfare is needs tested and based on income and assets, and some demographic groups are wealthier on average than others. Statehealthfacts.org (Kaiser Family Foundation) provides the following poverty line demographics.
Whites have a poverty rate of 13%, while 38.8% of welfare recipients are white. Blacks have a poverty rate of 35%, and 39.8% of welfare recipients are black. Hispanics have a poverty rate of 33%, yet just 15.7% of welfare recipients are Hispanic. (note: “other” defined as “Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Aleutians, Eskimos and persons of “Two or More Races”. Children of mixed Hispanic/non-Hispanic marriages are usually classified as Hispanic.)
When pressed and confronted with facts, Nativists no doubt will claim only immigrants themselves are hard working and stay off of welfare, while their offspring soon fall victim of the welfare client state, but is this true? This chart from a research paper shows that children born of Hispanic immigrants do indeed assimilate in every important category. Comparing 1980 immigrants to their children in 2005, high school completion rates (HS+) soared from less than 40% to 85%, and not much less than native born whites. Rates for college education (BA+) and high occupation, also rose at the same rates as for native born whites. In the “above poverty” and “homeowner” categories, Hispanics rose to nearly equal their native born white counterparts.
An August 2012 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 57% of eligible U.S. Citizens applied for Medicaid, as compared to only 30% of eligible immigrants.
The large majority of Hispanics are either immigrants themselves, or 1-2 generations removed from immigrants. It is obvious the claims of immigrants abusing welfare is yet another myth designed to support more immigration restriction!
Debunking FAIR’s Fiscal Impact Report claims of immigrants abusing welfare
The Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform is one of many organizations founded by population control liberal and environmentalist John Tanton. Tanton also founded or co-founded NumbersUSA, the Center for Immigration Studies, and numerous other groups. Tanton’s organizations all call for strict immigration enforcement and drastic cuts in legal immigration to 1956 levels after a ten year timeout of no immigration.
FAIR published the report “The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers“, which has been widely quoted by Nativists as if it’s the gospel on immigration. FAIR’s report repeats the constant drumbeat of immigrants abusing welfare and claims the net cost of illegal immigration exceeds benefits by $113 billion annually.
Alex Nowrasteh of the Competitive Enterprise Institute analyzed FAIR’s study and thoroughly debunks it in his report “A FAIR Criticism.” The most glaring flaw in FAIR’s study is including the cost of educating the U.S. born children of unauthorized immigrants as a cost, then completely excluding the taxes they will pay over their lifetimes after finishing their education! FAIR also makes the baseless claim that unauthorized immigrants don’t pay taxes when in fact most do.
Immigrant Welfare Eligibility
A common myth from the Nativist lobby is that immigrants come to the U.S. to receive ‘free stuff’ and the incessant claims of immigrants abusing welfare greatly angers many taxpayers. Nativist groups clearly mislead taxpayers into believing they pay taxes to support immigrants so they will oppose immigration.
However, since 1996 legal immigrants have been barred from most federally funded welfare programs until they have five years of residency, and family-based immigrants required a sponsor willing to sign a contract agreeing to reimburse government for any welfare benefits received for up to ten years. Unauthorized immigrants were barred from welfare rolls long before 1996.
Colorado’s Brush with Nativism
Despite the 1996 federal law, in 2006 Colorado Governor Bill Owens reacted to shrill rhetoric from Nativists and called a special session of the legislature to pass immigration bills.
The Nativist group Defend Colorado Now claimed unauthorized immigrants were costing Colorado over $1 billion per year. Colorado passed the strictest illegal immigration laws in the nation (as of 2006), and then spent millions auditing welfare rolls and failed to find a single unauthorized immigrant receiving benefits! At least six other states have conducted similar audits and also failed to find a problem. Colorado Nativist Congressman Tom Tancredo even introduced a bill for a moratorium on all immigration!
The Center for New Community reports the largest contributor to Defend Colorado Now was U.S. Inc., a foundation controlled by John Tanton. Not surprisingly, in 2008 FAIR claimed the cost of illegal immigration to Colorado taxpayers was $1.1 billion, and FAIR’s latest report pegs the cost at $1.451 Billion. Yet Colorado had just spent millions looking for unauthorized immigrants collecting welfare and failed to find any!
Bob Quasius is the founder and president of Cafe Con Leche Republicans