By Joe Guzzardi
June 26, 2017
In a rousing campaign-style speech delivered in Iowa, President Donald Trump called for barring immigrants from collecting welfare for five years after their arrival: “Those seeking immigration into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years.” President Trump added that individuals likely to become public charges – welfare recipients – should be denied entry.
Critics pounced on the president’s proposal, and said that laws that prohibit admitting public charges have been in effect for about 100 years, and were most recently reinforced in 1996 when President Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.
As far as they go, the critics are correct. But there’s a huge gap between having legislation on the books, and enforcing those laws. The facts about immigrants’ welfare use may be too politically incorrect for the media to discuss, but they’re indisputable.
For starters, Department of Homeland Security data shows that few arriving immigrants are screened for the likelihood of becoming public charges. DHS did a case-by-case review, and found that only one of about one million legal immigrants were identified as probable welfare applicants, and therefore inadmissible. But the lone case was later dropped. The same indifference exists in regard to temporary, 90-day admissions. According to its records, in 2011 the State Department denied only .068 percent of temporary visa applications. A Congressional Research Report confirmed that, since 1990, admission denials on the basis of probable welfare use have plunged.
Although immigrant welfare dependency is a long-standing concern (an estimated 50 percent of immigrant-headed households use at least one form of welfare), the problem accelerated in 2013. That was when the U.S. Agriculture Department ran ads that encouraged immigrants to apply for food stamps while reassuring them that it wouldn’t jeopardize their citizenship opportunities. Immigrants who receive welfare within the first five years and violate the public charge rule can be deported, but rarely are.
Ignoring public charge guidelines raises another, broader problem that skeptics point to as a primary reason to reduce immigration. An estimated 25 million immigrants and their children live in or near poverty. As a result, American taxpayers must subsidize them. The burden that unskilled, under-educated immigrants represent to taxpayers is widely acknowledged, even in the pro-immigrant community. Paul Krugman, liberal New York Times editorial page writer and Nobel Prize winner, wrote that low-skilled immigrants don’t earn enough to offset the benefits they receive. A 2011 Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration audit, the last available data, found that the net gap for immigrants between services received and taxes paid during a six-year period reached $7.3 billion. Numerous follow-up studies by the Pew Research Center, the Center for Immigration Studies, and the book “Immigration, Poverty and Socioeconomic Inequality” arrived at the same conclusion – immigrant poverty persists, often even after generations.
In essence, the federal government has since 1986, and during Republican and Democratic administrations, imported poverty at a massive level that has required a bigger government to administer ever-expanding welfare programs.
With about 50 million poor Americans, the federal government has no excuse for continuing to admit more poverty. The president must follow through on his promise to tighten up on restricting potential public charge immigrants. President Trump’s campaign goal was, after all, to create an immigration system that puts Americans first.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.