On January 31st 2017 a draft of one of President Trump’s executive orders concerning immigrant access to needs-based assistance was leaked. Trump’s rationale is that immigrants arrive in the United States without the means to support themselves, and consequently burden American taxpayers through the use of social programs. According to Jannell Ross, writer for the Washington Post, this draft directs the government to do the following:
- Identify and prohibit potential immigrants who will likely require public aid and deport current immigrant residences who use public aid
- Determine the potential federal savings by limiting immigrant access
- Claim reimbursement from citizens who promised to support their immigrant relatives
- Mandate that social services report immigrant recipients to federal authorities
The rules regulating immigrant access to welfare are already quite stringent. A person is considered a “public charge” if he/she is likely to become primarily dependent on government services for support. In 1996, President Clinton instituted welfare reform that barred immigrants from receiving welfare within their first 5 years. Since Clinton’s presidency, these rules have lessened slightly and given limited allowances for access to certain public services on a means-tested basis. Trump’s order threatens progress made for immigrant rights to access welfare.
The premise for this order is predicated on the idea that immigrants cannot support themselves, use an exorbitant amount of public aid, and cost the American public billions in taxpayer dollars. Whether or not immigrants actually use more public aid than natives is still a point of contention. In order to present both sides of the argument, I will concede that according to the National Academies of Sciences 58.2% of households headed by immigrants receive “any type welfare” as opposed to 41.8% of households headed by natives. However, for specifically cash assistance and housing assistance types of public aid, native headed household usage exceeds immigrant headed household usage 6.3% to 5.5% and 5.3% to 4.2% respectively. Additionally, a report by the Cato Institute found that on an income-adjusted (not absolute) basis, noncitizen immigrants use less welfare than native-born citizens. Alex Nowratesh, immigration policy analyst for the Cato institute, made a compelling point when he said, “when you compare poor immigrants to poor natives, poor immigrants are less likely to use welfare, and when they do, the dollar value of the benefits they use is lower”. Already, eligible noncitizen participation in SNAP (a food stamp program) is lower than that of eligible citizens because they fear deportation. Currently, this fear is unfounded as SNAP is legal for immigrants, but if this order is passed they may actually be at risk.
By banning future immigrants and deporting current ones, Trump may do more harm than good for Americans. A Harvard Business School paper on the Economic Impacts of Immigration concluded that the net benefit of immigrants on aggregate outweigh the net costs. A study conducted in 2000, and cited by the HBS paper, calculated that one immigrant provides a net benefit of $7,400 over his/her lifetime. Educated immigrants actively contribute to the work force and pay more in taxes than they receive in welfare. Additionally the discounted cost of a newborn native child is approximately $80,000 when you account for schooling and publicly covered hospital costs. The average immigrant does not receive nearly this much money through welfare, and is already educated, making it beneficial to admit future immigrants and to not deport current ones.
According to Caitlin Dewey, writer for Washington Post, in the past strict welfare reform has not even been overly beneficial. Following Clinton’s reform, immigrant use of public aid dropped off, but for every 10% reduction in immigrant use of welfare there was a 5% increase in households classified as food insecure. Dewey argues that although American taxpayers may save nearly $19 billion, there will be detrimental fiscal and health long-term effects if individuals cannot gain access to food stamps. Underfed children often develop chronic health conditions and require hospitalization. In 2010 hunger related healthcare cost the U.S healthcare system $130.5 billion. The potential increase in hunger related healthcare costs for immigrants, 21% of whom fall under the poverty line according to the Center for Immigration Studies, would likely make the $19 billion in savings seem negligible. Ultimately, I believe that this executive order will not provide a net benefit to the American economy, rather it will exploit the poor, raise healthcare costs and violate the basic human rights that should be entitled to all people, immigrants included