As we finally embark on the imperative discussion of entitlement reform, we cannot overlook immigration and its disproportionate effect on the welfare state.
Our immigration system is stuck in the Kennedy days of the 1960's when our population was half of what it is today. Over the past few decades, in addition to the migration of 12 million+ illegals, we have allowed legal immigration to spiral out of control. We no longer promote an immigration system which benefits Americans, rather an unsustainable system of chain migration. This system encourages immigration which is too random, too low skilled, and quite simply too much. While our historical average for annual immigration ranged from 200,000-400,000, the current inane system has allowed for over 1 million new immigrants almost every year for the past decade. Again, a disproportionate number of those immigrants are low skilled.
There are obviously numerous challenges that are endemic in such a reckless immigration system, but the detrimental factor that is most relevant to the budget fight is the strain on our welfare system. Yesterday, Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies published a timely study on the impact of immigration on the welfare state. Here are some key findings:
- In 2009 (based on data collected in 2010), 57 percent of households headed by an immigrant (legal and illegal) with children (under 18) used at least one welfare program, compared to 39 percent for native households with children.
- Households with children with the highest welfare use rates are those headed by immigrants from the Dominican Republic (82 percent), Mexico and Guatemala (75 percent), and Ecuador (70 percent). Those with the lowest use rates are from the United Kingdom (7 percent), India (19 percent), Canada (23 percent), and Korea (25 percent).
- The states where immigrant households with children have the highest welfare use rates are Arizona (62 percent); Texas, California, and New York (61 percent); Pennsylvania (59 percent); Minnesota and Oregon (56 percent); and Colorado (55 percent).
- Welfare use tends to be high for both new arrivals and established residents. In 2009, 60 percent of households with children headed by an immigrant who arrived in 2000 or later used at least one welfare program; for households headed by immigrants who arrived before 2000 it was 55 percent.
Undoubtedly, as many have suggested, immigration in general has been good for the country throughout most of our history. However, the puerile platitudes from immigration advocates concerning the benefits of immigration are as vapid as an unqualified declaration of the advantages of calorie intake to the human body. Yes, a certain amount is absolutely necessary for the body to function. A further increase in calorie intake might be innocuous in its effects. However, overindulgence in calorie consumption is inimical to the body. Furthermore, if the calories come from certain things like saturated fat, they can be harmful even in smaller quantities. Just ask Michelle Obama.
Our immigration system works the same way. We need a certain amount of immigration to sustain our growth and continue the American tradition to be the land of opportunity for those who seek liberty. But if we continue to invite an unlimited number of immigrants and grant a disproportionate bias towards low skilled newcomers, we will no longer serve the best interests of the American citizens. Any serious immigration system must be judicious in the numbers of immigrants, their origin (national security concerns), and their potential as an asset to this country. Instead, we have a system based on chain migration, and in some ways, even a random lottery.
The last time we invited so many immigrants was during the great immigration wave from 1880-1924. At that time, there was no robust welfare state to join as a permanent rent-seeker. Now, the welfare state is so entrenched that even the boldest reform plans merely call for a reduction in the rate of increase, or the reinstatement to pre-Obama levels. How are we ever going to control the entitlement crisis if we continue this reckless immigration policy?
Needless to say, illegal aliens are an even larger burden to the welfare system than legal immigrants. According to the CIS study, a whopping 71% of illegal alien households benefited from at least one welfare program on behalf of their U.S. born children, compared to 52% of legal immigrant households. If we were to grant them "a pathway to citizenship" as many Democrats and far too many Republicans suggest, they would have access to the full litany of welfare programs that are available to American citizens.
Yet, even minor state enforcement laws are met with well-funded and cumbersome lawsuits funded by George Soros and the ACLU. Not surprisingly, the 9th Circuit agreed to uphold a stay on Arizona's immigration law yesterday. Arizona has the highest per capita burden of immigration welfare; yet, due to our convoluted system, they must wait years for a chance to secure their future.
Some states like Maryland have adopted the opposite approach. Yesterday, the Maryland General Assembly approved in-state tuition for illegal aliens. Without a real push for reform from Republicans in Washington, we will become a lawless nation.
As we propose ideas to reform the entitlement conundrum, it would be naive to ignore the need for immigration reform and its relevance to entitlement spending. It is time to engage in a mature discussion about the future of our immigration policy without the demagoguery and the race baiting that is employed by the left and the Bush Republicans. Our eventual presidential nominee must be willing to seriously address illegal and legal immigration reform. Immigration is the sort of issue that separates the men from the boys among conservatives. Any presidential candidate who is serious about curbing the growth of entitlements must be willing to curb the growth of immigration to some degree.
If we fail to modernize our immigration system, not only will we have a permanent entitlement crisis, we will have a permanent Democrat majority.