Those who favor unlimited legal immigration often tell us that the overall effects of legal immigration in America are positive, but after looking at the actual costs to the country from those entering legally, the claim doesn’t appear to be true.
While there’s many productive, hard-working immigrants who come to America seeking the American Dream, the majority of immigrant households actually take in some form of assistance from the federal government. In fact, a study from the Center for Immigration Studies found that 51 percent of immigrant households are receiving some form of government handout, compared to just 30 percent of native households, and the actual costs are staggering.
CIS conducted the study in 2015, but its findings are making the news again as Congress works out a deal to legalize some 800,000 or more illegal alien children who were smuggled into the country by their parents. Proponents of the measure argue that so-called “DREAMers” work, go to school, and contribute to the economy, so they’re deserving of receiving legal status.
However, after seeing how much legal immigration costs us annually in welfare alone, Congress may want to think twice about granting legal status to nearly a million more people.
Among the most stunning findings of the study was that immigrant households take in $6,234 annually compared to their native counterparts, which bring in $4,431, a 41 percent difference. Additionally, the highest cost immigrant households all came from the same region of the world, with people from Central America and Mexico taking in an average of $8,251 in welfare spending per home, while European and Asian immigrant homes were the least expensive when it came to welfare costs.
The study also found that illegal aliens, though not eligible for welfare themselves, were able to take in a staggering $5,692 annually per household by using their children to obtain federal benefits.
Although the SIPP does not directly measure legal status, probability models can be used to determine which immigrants are most likely to be in the country illegally.5 Table 3 indicates that households headed by (likely) illegal immigrants have an average welfare cost of $5,692. Illegal immigrants are barred from directly accessing most (though not all) welfare programs, but they can receive welfare through their U.S.-born children.6 Legal immigrant households, which have greater eligibility for welfare, cost $6,378 on average.
In all, it’s estimated that legal immigration costs the country around $500 billion annually in welfare alone. While some would argue they make up for it by paying more in taxes, the CIS found that immigrants tend to pay around $.89 in taxes to every dollar paid by their native counterparts, indicating their use of welfare is a net drain on the system.
Some readers may wonder whether broadening the analysis would reveal that immigrant households make up for their greater welfare cost by paying higher taxes. This is not the case. As the previous CIS study of welfare participation demonstrated, immigrant households pay only about 89 cents in federal income and payroll taxes for every dollar paid by native households.
Further, the costs of legal immigrant welfare could be substantially decreased by reforming our immigration system to only allow in educated and skilled workers, eliminating the need for government dependence in the first place.
To summarize, below are the main findings from the study by CIS:
The average household headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal) costs taxpayers $6,234 in federal welfare benefits, which is 41 percent higher than the $4,431 received by the average native household.
The average immigrant household consumes 33 percent more cash welfare, 57 percent more food assistance, and 44 percent more Medicaid dollars than the average native household. Housing costs are about the same for both groups.
At $8,251, households headed by immigrants from Central America and Mexico have the highest welfare costs of any sending region — 86 percent higher than the costs of native households.
Illegal immigrant households cost an average of $5,692 (driven largely by the presence of U.S.-born children), while legal immigrant households cost $6,378.
The greater consumption of welfare dollars by immigrants can be explained in large part by their lower level of education and larger number of children compared to natives. Over 24 percent of immigrant households are headed by a high school dropout, compared to just 8 percent of native households. In addition, 13 percent of immigrant households have three or more children, vs. just 6 percent of native households.
Again, as Congress readies itself to debate whether or not to grant legal status to so-called “DREAMers,” it’s imperative they consider the findings from CIS, especially if they’re considering allowing chain immigration, or using the legal status of a relative to gain citizenship.
What’s outlined above is simply unsustainable, and adding another million or so people to this list would undoubtedly further strangle the already struggling middle class in America.