Immigration and the Welfare State

By Griswold, Daniel T. | The Cato Journal, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Immigration and the Welfare State


Griswold, Daniel T., The Cato Journal


Among the more serious arguments against liberalizing immigration is that it can be costly to taxpayers. Low-skilled immigrants in particular consume more government services than they pay in taxes, increasing the burden of government for native-born Americans. Organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies, the Heritage Foundation, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform have produced reports claiming that immigration costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year, with the heaviest costs borne by state and local taxpayers. No less a classical liberal than Milton Freidman mused that open immigration is incompatible with a welfare state. Responding to a question at a libertarian conference in 1999, Friedman rejected the idea of opening the U.S. border to all immigrants, declaring that "You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state" (Free Students 2008).

Contrary to those concerns, immigration to the United States does not pose a long-term burden on U.S. taxpayers. The typical immigrant and his or her descendants pay more in taxes than they consume in government services in terms of net present value. Low-skilled immigrants do impose a net cost on government, in particular on the state and local level, but those costs are often exaggerated by critics of immigration and are offset by broader benefits to the overall economy. And with all due respect to Milton Freidman, practical steps can be taken to allow nations such as the United States to reap the benefits of a more open immigration system while maintaining certain welfare programs for citizens.

Legal Barriers to Collecting Welfare

Despite the common belief, newcomers to the United States are not generally eligible for the full smorgasbord of welfare benefits. Title IV of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 has made it difficult for legal permanent residents in the United States to live as wards of the state. The law, also known as the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, states that "self-sufficiency has been a basic principle of United States immigration law." In particular, "aliens within the Nation's borders [should] not depend on public resources to meet their needs," and "the availability of public benefits [should] not constitute an incentive for immigration to the United States" (U.S. Congress 1996).

The law bars newly legalized permanent residents from eligibility for a range of federal income support programs for at least the first five years of their residency. Those programs include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Food Stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid (Full-Scope), and the Children's Health Insurance Program (Anderson 2010: 198). The law requires a relative to sign a sworn affidavit committing to support the legal permanent resident for their first five years of residency if needed. Illegal immigrants are ineligible for almost all federal welfare programs.

Once an immigrant becomes a naturalized citizen, he or she is eligible for the same benefits available to native-born Americans. A range of benefits are also available to those admitted as refugees or approved for asylum, under the assumption that they have suffered trauma that may make it difficult for them to support themselves immediately upon arrival. All foreign-born residents, even those in the United States without authorization, can enroll their children in public K-12 schools and be treated for emergency medical needs.

Immigrants Prefer Work

Immigrants come to America today to build a better life through work, not welfare, just as they have throughout American history. We can see evidence of this in their labor-force participation rates as well as their gravitation toward states that offer the best prospects for employment, not welfare benefits.

The typical foreign-born adult resident of the United States today is more likely to participate in the work force than the typical native-born American. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Immigration and the Welfare State
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.