Conservative Media's Misplaced Hysteria Over Immigrants And Welfare

Right-wing media have seized on a report noting that American children in Los Angeles County with undocumented parents are receiving millions in benefits to revive the spurious smear that undocumented immigrants come to this country only to receive welfare. However, these outlets are missing the facts surrounding the data, including that studies show immigration reform could raise these children's standard of living.

In a September 16 article, the local CBS affiliate in Los Angeles reported that according to a new analysis by county officials, an “estimated 100,000 children of 60,000 undocumented parents receive aid in Los Angeles County.” The article added that the projected cost to the county would equal $650 million in 2013.

County supervisor Michael D. Antonovich was quoted as saying that the total cost to taxpayers could exceed $1.6 billion per year after factoring in health care and public safety costs, adding, “These costs do not even include the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually for education.”

Right-wing media outlets, including the Daily Caller, The Blaze, and, highlighted the report, with the Power Line blog using it to accuse undocumented immigrants of putting a “burden” on “the nation's welfare system, along with driving down wages for working Americans.” American Thinker commented: “To open borders crowd: Please make your donations here to cover the cost of allowing destitute, jobless, skilless, poorly educated people to cross the border. We can't bill the Mexican government so you're the next best target.”

Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham read the news on her radio show and used it to call for the end of birthright citizenship -- which, under the 14th Amendment, makes anyone born in this country an American citizen. She also argued that the news should end all talk of immigration reform.

But these reports leave out key facts. In 2012, according to Antonovich's office, the total cost of food stamp benefits and Cal WORKs -- a welfare program that gives cash aid and services to eligible needy California families -- to Los Angeles County was a little over $3 billion. Families headed by an undocumented parent received about $636.5 million or a little more than 20 percent of the total.

According to recent estimates, 9.9 million Californians live in Los Angeles County. A University of Southern California study estimated in May that 1 in 10 residents or nearly 1 million is an undocumented immigrant. That's about 6 percent of Los Angeles County's population -- a tiny number of people if you put it in perspective to what undocumented immigrants contribute to the county and state.

In its study examining the undocumented population in California, USC found that there are more self-employed undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles County -- at 14 percent -- than any other county in California. The county's undocumented residents also represent the highest share who work full time at 58 percent. Most of the county's undocumented residents are also some of the most settled, having lived in the state a median of 10 years.

If immigration reform were passed and undocumented immigrants were granted legal status, USC noted that economists predict the county could see a $1.5 to $2.6 billion income boost per year. Indeed, studies show that “gaining legal status could boost wages anywhere between 6 and 15 percent after a period of a few years.”

In a July report, the Institute On Taxation And Economic Policy found that undocumented immigrants in California pay more than $2.2 billion in state and local taxes and estimated that the number would increase by $327 million if the state's undocumented residents were legalized.

As USC added, however, “While the immediate economic gains are important, perhaps more critical is what reform might mean for the future of the children of undocumented parents.” After noting that 1.5 million children living in the state have at least one undocumented parent, USC continued:

Research indicates that children of undocumented parents face greater barriers to accessing social services and programs and tend to have more negative social, economic and health outcomes. The impacts of workplace raids aimed at undocumented workers often fall on children. Advocates have found that absenteeism increased amongst children affected by the raids, that they had a hard time getting food and clothing, and that the majority showed trauma that made connecting at school and in their communities difficult.

Recognizing this harm and more broadly what is at stake for the Golden State, many legislators and school officials have become supporters of immigration reform. For example, the second largest school district in California, San Diego Unified, recently passed a resolution supporting comprehensive immigration reform.

But these facts were missing from the overall coverage on the report. Instead, it was reduced to the mass hysteria over undocumented immigrants and welfare -- a time-trodden pastime of the conservative set. In fact, as has been proven over and over again, immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to rely on government benefit programs.