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  • Article: Report on Immigrant Welfare Use is Fundamentally Flawed—Here’s Why. By Walter Ewing

    Report on Immigrant Welfare Use is Fundamentally Flawed—Here’s Why

    by




    It’s déjà vu all over again at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Having released one flawed report on immigrant “welfare” use late last year, CIS has followed up with another that contains the same flaws. The biggest shortcoming of both reports is that they count the public benefits utilized by U.S.-born children as costs incurred by the “immigrant-headed households” of which they are a part—at least until those children turn 18, that is, at which point they are counted as “natives.”

    The problem with this kind of creative accounting is that all children are “costly” when they are young because they consume educational and health services without contributing any tax revenue. However, that situation reverses when they are working-age adults who, in a sense, “pay back” in taxes what they consumed as children. So it is disingenuous to count them as a “cost of immigration” one minute, and then as native-born taxpayers the next minute. As the Cato Institute asked rhetorically in their critique of last year’s CIS report on immigrants and public benefits, if native-born children who utilize public benefits are counted as “costs” attributable to immigration, why not include native-born grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well?

    In addition, CIS doesn’t account for income differences within the U.S. population. Rather than comparing rates of public-benefits usage among low-income immigrants and low-income natives, CIS compares use rates for all natives and all immigrants (including the wealthy, who don’t need public benefits). When differences in income are taken into account, though, the picture changes dramatically from what CIS suggests. For example, a 2013 report by two researchers from George Washington University concludes that:

    “Low-income non-citizen adults and children generally have lower rates of public benefit use than native-born adults or citizen children whose parents are also citizens. Moreover, when low-income non-citizens receive public benefits, the average value of benefits per recipient is almost always lower than for the native-born.”

    At the most fundamental level, what CIS fails to understand is that the U.S.-born children of immigrant parents are among tomorrow’s workers, consumers, and taxpayers. As a result, it is in the best interest of the U.S. economy to ensure that these children grow up healthy and educated since that will increase their productivity, earning power, buying power, and tax payments later in life. One does not empower any economically disadvantaged group of people to earn higher wages by cutting their access to public-benefits programs and thereby beating them further into poverty.

    It is worth mentioning that this latest offering by CIS on immigrants and public benefits was authored by Jason Richwine, a former employee of the Heritage Foundation who lost his job there in 2013 thanks to his doctoral dissertation at Harvard, which argued that today’s predominantly non-white immigrants are inherently less intelligent than white natives. Given this level of disregard for modern social science, it comes as no surprise that Richwine holds immigrants as a group responsible for the free school lunches eaten by the U.S.-born children of immigrants with lower incomes.

    Regardless of the author’s credibility, the only “solutions” offered by this latest CIS report are stringent limits on future immigration or stringent limits on eligibility for public benefits. Neither of these actually invests anything in the future of a workforce in which one out of every six workers is foreign-born. A pathway to legal status for immigrants who are unauthorized; naturalization drives for those who are already lawful permanent residents; English and adult-education courses for those who need new skills to get better jobs—these are some of the ways to invest in the U.S. workforce. Bemoaning that there are children of immigrants who utilize public benefits accomplishes nothing constructive.

    Photo Courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

    This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact. © 2016 Immigration Impact. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


    About The Author

    Walter Ewing Walter Ewing, Ph.D., is Senior Researcher at the American Immigration Council. In addition to authoring numerous reports for the Council, he has published articles in the Journal on Migration and Human Security, Society, the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, and the Stanford Law and Policy Review. He also authored a chapter in Debates on U.S. Immigration, published by SAGE in 2012. Mr. Ewing received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School in 1997. Follow him on Twitter @WalterAEwing.


    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
      Nolan Rappaport -
      I agree with most of your criticisms of the CIS report, but I think your own analysis is fundamentally flawed in some ways too.

      All children are costly when they are young, but not all of them were born here to foreign parents who were in the United States in violation of our laws. In other words, their educational and other publicly funded needs are expenses we wouldn’t have to the same extent if our immigration laws were enforced more effectively. Does that justify not taking care of their needs? No, it doesn’t. To me anyway. Nevertheless, I don’t think we should ignore that reality.

      “As the Cato Institute asked rhetorically in their critique of last year’s CIS report on immigrants and public benefits, if native-born children who utilize public benefits are counted as “costs” attributable to immigration, why not include native-born grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well?”

      Logically, they should be counted too, but it depends also on the objective of the discussion. I wouldn’t count them in any discussion I am likely to have. If we followed that reasoning in our own affairs, we would have to give most of America back to the Indians. Or not so far back, we would have to give parts of California, Texas, etc., to Mexico. It would be logical and probably the right thing to do but……..

      “In addition, CIS doesn’t account for income differences within the U.S. population. Rather than comparing rates of public-benefits usage among low-income immigrants and low-income natives, CIS compares use rates for all natives and all immigrants (including the wealthy, who don’t need public benefits). When differences in income are taken into account, though, the picture changes dramatically from what CIS suggests. For example, a 2013 report by two researchers from George Washington University concludes that:
      Low-income non-citizen adults and children generally have lower rates of public benefit use than native-born adults or citizen children whose parents are also citizens. Moreover, when low-income non-citizens receive public benefits, the average value of benefits per recipient is almost always lower than for the native-born.”

      I don’t think we should be making such comparisons with the cost of public benefits for the children of parents who were in the US lawfully when their children were born here, regardless of income or educational levels or any other income producing factors. They are citizens and have the same rights as citizens who were born to parents who were lawfully in the United States when they were born. Children who were born here to parents who were in the US in violation of our laws have the same rights, but the fact that their parents weren’t supposed to be here has policy ramifications that should be considered in immigration policy discussions.

      But children here unlawfully are a different matter. My personal view is that we need another IRCA wipe-the-slate clean deal between the dems and the republicans, which would moot the discussion, but until that happens, their financial needs should be considered in immigration policy discussions.

      If you want to know what the wipe-the-slate-clean deal is, see my article, “What is IRCA, and What Does It Have To Do with Comprehensive Immigration Reform? (Feb. 8, 2013), http://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsr...migration-law- blog/archive/2013/02/08/what-is-irca-and-what-does-it-have-to-do-with- comprehensive-immigration-reform.aspx”

      “At the most fundamental level, what CIS fails to understand is that the U.S.-born children of immigrant parents are among tomorrow’s workers, consumers, and taxpayers. As a result, it is in the best interest of the U.S. economy to ensure that these children grow up healthy and educated since that will increase their productivity, earning power, buying power, and tax payments later in life. One does not empower any economically disadvantaged group of people to earn higher wages by cutting their access to public-benefits programs and thereby beating them further into poverty.”

      That’s only true for people who accept the fact that these children are not going to be leaving the country, unless someone like Donald Trump is elected. If your position is that they shouldn’t be here and should be deported asap, you aren’t going to be receptive to the argument that we should prepare them to be tax-paying members of our society when they grow up.

      If you want to know why I think Donald Trump can deport them, see my article, “President Obama’s use of executive discretion could have unintended consequences if Donald Trump becomes our next president” (March 7, 2016), http://www.ilw.com/articles/2016,0307-Rappaport.pdf

      “It is worth mentioning that this latest offering by CIS on immigrants and public benefits was authored by Jason Richwine, a former employee of the Heritage Foundation who lost his job there in 2013 thanks to his doctoral dissertation at Harvard, which argued that today’s predominantly non-white immigrants are inherently less intelligent than white natives. Given this level of disregard for modern social science, it comes as no surprise that Richwine holds immigrants as a group responsible for the free school lunches eaten by the U.S.-born children of immigrants with lower incomes.”

      Walter, why spoil your objective, intelligent presentation with an ad hominem attack on the author of the CIS article?

      “Regardless of the author’s credibility, the only “solutions” offered by this latest CIS report are stringent limits on future immigration or stringent limits on eligibility for public benefits. Neither of these actually invests anything in the future of a workforce in which one out of every six workers is foreign-born. A pathway to legal status for immigrants who are unauthorized; naturalization drives for those who are already lawful permanent residents; English and adult-education courses for those who need new skills to get better jobs—these are some of the ways to invest in the U.S. workforce. Bemoaning that there are children of immigrants who utilize public benefits accomplishes nothing constructive.”

      I agree to the extent that you are talking about children who are in the United States lawfully. For the reasons I discuss above, your point isn’t persuasive with respect to the ones who are here in violation of our laws.
    1. feded's Avatar
      feded -
      So, 100,000+ additional children to educate, medicate, feed and house is not an additional expense?
    1. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
      Nolan Rappaport -
      I agree with most of your criticisms of the CIS report, but I think your own analysis is fundamentally flawed in some ways too.

      All children are costly when they are young, but not all of them were born here to foreign parents who were in the United States in violation of our laws. In other words, their educational and other publicly funded needs are expenses we wouldn’t have to the same extent if our immigration laws were enforced more effectively. You may not think the welfare cost of uncontrolled immigration is a problem, but with a national debt closing in on $20 trillions it's hard to fault the people who do. It is a legitimate factor in policy discussions on the need for more effective immigration enforcement.

      Also, Walter, why spoil your objective, intelligent presentation with an ad hominem attack on the author of the CIS article?
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