- Turning to households headed by immigrants in the country illegally, we estimate that 62 percent used one or more welfare programs in 2012, compared to 30 percent of native households.
- Households headed by immigrants illegally in the country have higher use rates than native households overall and for food programs (57 percent vs. 22 percent) and Medicaid (51 percent vs. 23 percent). Use of cash programs by illegal immigrants is lower than use by natives (5 percent vs. 10 percent), as is use of housing programs (4 percent vs. 6 percent).
- There is a child present in 86 percent of illegal immigrant households using welfare, and this is the primary way that these households access programs.
- Of illegal immigrant households with children, 87 percent access one or more welfare programs compared to 52 percent of native households.
This report is a companion to a recent report published by the Center for Immigration Studies looking at welfare use by all immigrant households, based on Census Bureau data. This report separates legal and illegal immigrant households and estimates welfare use using the same Census Bureau data as that study. This analysis shows that legal immigrant households make extensive use of most welfare programs, while illegal immigrant households primarily benfit from food programs and Medicaid through their U.S.-born children. Low levels of education — not legal status — is the main reason immigrant welfare use is high.
In terms of the share of immigrant households using welfare, households headed by legal immigrants account for most program use. Of all immigrant households (legal and illegal) using one or more welfare programs, legal immigrants account for 75 percent of the total. Of immigrant households using cash, 92 percent are headed by legal immigrants, as are 71 percent of households using food assistance, 74 percent using Medicaid, and 87 percent in public or subsidized housing. This should not be surprising as households headed by legal immigrants account for 79 percent of all immigrant households in the SIPP.
It is fair to say that efforts to curtail immigrant welfare use have not been particularly effective given the high welfare use of legal and illegal immigrants despite all of the restrictions on immigrant welfare use that are in place. Any suggestion that such costs can be avoided in the future by new legislation should be met with significant skepticism. Politically and practically it is difficult to prevent low-income people from accessing these programs once they have been allowed into the country. Further, the results indicate that knowledge of how to navigate the welfare system is extensive in immigrant communities and no change in the law would change this reality.
Source: Center for Immigration Studies