Right-Wing Media Push Debunked Immigrant Welfare Claim

Fox News and National Review Online gave credence to claims about immigrant's use of social benefits by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) without noting that immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to rely on such programs.

In a Fox News segment about the cost of comprehensive immigration reform to taxpayers, host Neil Cavuto allowed CIS research director Steven Camarota to repeat the myth that immigrants use social benefits at higher rates than native-born Americans because they are less educated, and that, if given legal status, they would stay on welfare. Cavuto did not challenge any of Camarota's claims:

Camarota's CIS counterpart, executive director Mark Krikorian, penned a column for National Review Online to further establish the myth, saying that, if you control for income, immigrants' rate of use of social benefit programs is less than that of poor Americans. He added that this means that “immigration imports a better class of underclass.”

Numerous studies have debunked the claim that immigrants use public benefits in greater numbers than Americans, which Krikorian admitted in his column, albeit with a clear caveat. Moreover, as the Cato Institute explained when it took issue with CIS' study on immigrants and their use of public benefits, CIS uses a flawed methodology that counts the American-born children of immigrants along with undocumented or legal immigrants to determine costs:

Our approach of counting immigrant welfare use individually is used by the conservative state of Texas to measure immigrant use of government education and other benefits.  The Texas Comptroller's Office did not include the children of immigrants who were American citizens when calculating the cost to public services in Texas because, “the inclusion of these children dramatically increased the costs.”


In other words, counting the cost of the children of immigrants who are born citizens is a bad approach.  If we were to follow Camarota's methodology, why not count the welfare costs of the great-grandchildren of immigrants who use welfare or public schools today?  Our study, on the other hand, measures the welfare cost of non-naturalized immigrants and, where possible, naturalized Americans.

CIS also leaves out the fact that many immigrants, due to their undocumented or legal status, are unable to access opportunities that allow Americans to increase their income level. A Center for American Progress issue brief highlighted that “naturalized citizens are more economically beneficial than even legal permanent residents,” as research indicates that naturalized citizens earn higher wages after naturalization. A study by Manuel Pastor and Justin Scoggins of the University of Southern California found that immigrants boost their wages by 8 percent and 11 percent after naturalization. Their research further notes that if legal permanent residents eligible for citizenship naturalize, the U.S. economy could see aggregate earnings increase anywhere between $21 billion and $45 billion over ten years.

Lastly, it's unlikely that newly legalized immigrants will be eligible for any public benefits under a comprehensive immigration plan. According to an article in Politico, Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) chief of staff explained that immigrants would be “barred from accessing Obamacare and other government benefit programs.”