Poll Deflates Right-Wing Claims About Undocumented Immigrants And Welfare

The findings of a poll that the majority of Latino immigrants who come to the United States illegally do so for economic opportunities and a better life for their families deflate the right-wing media myth that undocumented immigrants are more interested in taking advantage of government benefits.

The poll released April 15 by Latino Decisions found that more than three quarters of undocumented immigrants from Latin America “came to the U.S. for better economic opportunity, or to create a better life for their family.”

From the poll:

Opportunity is identified as the principal reason for coming to the United States. Overall, 77% came to the U.S. for better economic opportunity, or to create a better life for their family. Approximately 39% of our respondents said “better jobs and economic opportunity” as the reason for migration, while another 38% said “to create a better life for [your] family and children.” Another 12% came to reunite with family members.

Right-wing media have promoted the false narrative that undocumented immigrants come to the United States to gain access to government benefits to argue against immigration reform. 

A recent Washington Post article quoted Center for Immigration Studies' research director Steven Camarota who peddled the claim  that undocumented immigrants “need” social government programs because they are supposedly more reliant on public services than native-born Americans.

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has said that immigration reform would mean more immigrants “on the welfare entitlement train;” the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore has warned that the U.S. welfare system could become a “magnet” for other immigrants; and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin has argued that immigration reform would “rope more immigrants into [the] welfare state.”

Right-wing media figures have also used the tactic to demonize immigrants. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter, for example, has complained about “hordes of Mexicans collecting warfare.”

The Latino Decisions poll also found that 75 percent of Latino undocumented immigrants have at least one child or a spouse who is a U.S. citizen, and that nearly all have one other family member living in the United States:

From the poll:

Across all questions about family members, 95% of respondents have at least one other family member in the U.S. About three-quarters (74%) have children living here in the U.S., 62% have a spouse in the U.S., and the same amount, 62% have a brother or sister here, and 61% have a cousin. Undocumented immigrants are overwhelmingly in family environments, not in isolation.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 81 percent of the country's undocumented immigrants are from Latin America.

A March analysis from the University of Arizona's Center for Latin American Studies similarly found that immigrants “who are deported feel they left behind their home as well as a chance for a better life,” as The New York Times wrote:

This “emotional connection,” as described by one of the researchers, Jeremy Slack, a doctoral student at the School of Geography and Development at the university, is the single strongest predictor of who among the deported migrants will seek to return to the United States.

According to the report, financed by the Ford Foundation, about 60 percent of the respondents said they planned to try crossing the border again in the near future.

The reasons were clear: of the 1,113 recently deported migrants who were interviewed at ports of entry and in shelters in six border communities in Mexico, roughly 300 of them had children under the age of 18 who were American citizens.

One in three of the migrants -- mostly men with a median of eight years of formal education -- said they considered the United States their home.