The Ongoing Myth of Immigrant Welfare

Immigrants, legal and illegal, are a constant talking point with Republicans. They want you to think that they are rolling in welfare money and taking away the benefits reserved for you.

It fuels a lot of the hate that comes from Trump supporters…those who believe the things our President constantly lies about.

I am going to do something unusual here. I am going to be quoting the CATO Institute. For reference, here is the first line of their Wikipedia page….

The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Ed CraneMurray Rothbard, and Charles Koch.

An odd place to use as a source, but the CATO Institute did a 2018 research report on immigrants and how they utilize our welfare system. You might be surprised to learn that they actually don’t use it much…

The welfare state is certainly a problem, but it’s a home-grown one, not an imported one. Welfare’s benefits are too large and too many people receive them. But the Trump administration should not blame this problem on immigrants. In fact, immigrants use fewer welfare and entitlement benefits than native-born Americans.

Surprised? Yeah, it kind of goes totally counter to the narrative that Trump and his allies want you to believe.

But there is more….

We found that immigrants use 39 percent fewer welfare and entitlements benefits per person than native-born Americans. Immigrants are less likely to use the individual programs in most cases and, when they do, the benefits they receive tend to be smaller.

And the reason is very simple….

One reason why immigrants use fewer benefits is because they are often not eligible for them. Legal immigrants cannot get welfare for their first five years of residency, with few exceptions, mostly at the state level. Illegal immigrants are not eligible for welfare except for rare circumstances like emergency Medicaid.

When an immigrant gets into this country legally, they must survive on their own for 5 years after entry. Imagine if you had to handle that challenge with virtually nothing to start with and few prospects other than possibly family?

And yet, they are villified by right wing media. So why do they come?

Immigrants are drawn to America’s labor markets, not to welfare benefits….. If they were coming for welfare, there would be more illegal immigrants entering the country than ever. But there aren’t. Murder, the chaotic drug war in Central America, and a recovering economy here, combined with a faltering one there, is the main driver of asylum seekers and some illegal immigrants coming from that part of the world.

The constant barrage of half-truths about immigrants and welfare continues to fuel anger and resentment. And it is all unjustified. No amount of reporting the truth seems to matter. We have a President who lies about it. We have Republicans in Congress who look the other way. And we have conservative groups who distort statistics to fit their narrative.

The fact that the CATO Institute would publish such a report gives a pretty good indication of where the facts end up. But nobody in right wing fantasy land wants to hear it.