According to a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies, immigrants – both legal and illegal – are costing the U.S. a fortune in welfare benefits. The study, based on an analysis of Census figures from 2012, shows that the federal government is spending more than $100 billion to provide welfare to immigrant families.
While immigrants aren’t the only ones getting welfare, they outdo natural-born Americans by almost every metric. Households led by illegal immigrants receive an average of $5,692 in federal benefits annually, compared to the $4,431 going to “native” households every year. When you expand the demographic to include both legal and illegal immigrant households, the number goes up to $6,241. The study also showed that 51% of immigrant families receive some type of federal welfare.
“While it is important for Americans to understand the rate of welfare use among immigrants, expressing that use in dollar terms offers a more tangible metric that is tied to current debates over fiscal policy,” wrote Jason Richwine, the study’s author. “With the nation facing a long-term budgetary deficit, this study helps illuminate immigration’s impact on the problem.”
Richwine anticipated that the illegal immigrant numbers will surprise many Americans who were led to believe that they were not eligible for federal benefits. “Illegal immigrants are barred from directly accessing most (though not all) welfare programs, but they can receive welfare through their U.S.-born children,” he explained.
If there was any further need to illustrate why illegal immigration is a crucial issue for fiscal conservatives, this study should fill that need. To be sure, there are a host of concerns related to rampant illegal immigration – national security gaps, multiculturalism, and crime to name a few. But for those Republicans who are willing to look past all that in the name of “compassion,” these numbers should act as a wake-up call. Put simply, the status quo is unsustainable.
That said, the report should also serve as a message to Republicans who say that “illegal” immigration is the only thing to be worried about. When it comes to federal spending, in fact, it is the legal immigrants taking the lion’s share of the welfare. Once you wade through all the feel-good crap about America being a “nation of immigrants,” it becomes quickly clear that we have a serious problem on our hands.
Not so clear: what to do about it. Do we shut the borders completely for a few years? Do we limit visas to highly-skilled workers who probably won’t be a drain on the taxpayers? What’s the best move? What’s the politically feasible move?
We don’t necessarily have the right answers, but we certainly know which answer is unacceptable: kicking the problem down the road. At some point – probably sooner than later – this whole financial fantasy is going to collapse. And compassionate Republicans should remember that immigrants will be just as hurt by that crash as everyone else.