Report: Immigrants Use Welfare System More Than Natives

Majority on at least one program; collections by illegals higher than legals

A day after a “civil justice” group asked why Florida needed new immigration laws, a Washington think tank offered a dollars-and-cents answer.

The Center for Immigration Studies on Tuesday reported that U.S. immigrants — legal and illegal — use welfare programs at a higher rate than the native population.

While conventional wisdom contends that immigrants cross the border to work, 57 percent of households headed by immigrants collect at least one welfare check, compared to 39 percent for native households.

Researchers say those findings explain in part why Food Stamp recipients are at an all-time high of 44 million.

Not all immigrants behave the same, however. Households with children with the highest rates of welfare use are headed by migrants from the Dominican Republic (82 percent), Mexico and Guatemala (75 percent), and Ecuador (70 percent).

The lowest rates are found among immigrants from the United Kingdom (7 percent), India (19 percent) and Canada and Korea (25 percent),

Florida, home to some 1 million illegal immigrants, spends an estimated $5.5 billion providing social services to undocumented migrants each year.

Steve Camarota, director of research for the CIS, said that high rates of welfare usage do not necessarily reflect immigrants’ unwillingness to work.

“The vast majority (95 percent) of immigrant households with children had at least one worker in 2009. But their low education levels mean that more than half of these working-immigrant households with children still accessed the welfare system.”

The Florida Legislature is considering a series of bills that would crack down on illegal immigration. On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 2040, which purports to tighten hiring in the private sector by requiring employers to either use the federal E-Verify screening database or verify a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license.

The measure is broadly opposed by business organizations and immigrant-rights groups, including Florida New Majority, which declared: “Florida has many problems, immigrants aren’t one of them.”

“We have no idea why Florida is still pushing through with this,” the group said in a statement Monday.

But CIS research indicates that state taxpayers are shouldering an ongoing and growing cost of immigration — both legal and illegal.

While some argue that immigrant families tend to be younger and have more children — which leads to more welfare use — the CIS study found that childless immigrant households also far outstrip comparable native households in collecting welfare.

Notably, illegal immigrant households collect welfare benefits at a higher rate than households headed by legal residents.

“We estimate that 52 percent of households with children headed by legal immigrants used at least one welfare program in 2009, compared to 71 percent for illegal immigrant households with children. Illegal immigrants generally receive benefits on behalf of their U.S.-born children,” Camarota wrote.

In Florida, 48.7 percent of immigrant households collected some form of welfare versus 35.1 percent of native households. In Miami-Dade, the spread was 55.9 percent versus 49.6 percent.

Although most new legal immigrants are barred from using certain welfare programs for the first five years, CIS found that provision had only a “modest impact” on household use because most immigrants have been in the United States longer than five years, and the ban only applies to some programs.

The eight major welfare programs examined in the report were: SSI (Supplemental Security Income), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), WIC (Women Infants and Children food program), free/reduced school lunch, Food Stamps, Medicaid, public housing and rent subsidies.

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