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DHS Folly: Promoting Welfare to Immigrants

Immigration and the rule of law are not two irreconcilable realities in the United States.  The existence of the former should not trump or degrade the latter.  Conservatives recognize this more than anyone else.  Unfortunately, the Daily Caller reports that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun to promote welfare to immigrants.  Yes, you read that correctly.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which bills itself as the “primary gateway for new immigrants to find basic information on how to settle in the United States,” features a section on its website on how to access government benefits.  The benefits they’re touting include food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, Medicare, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  They also list the Benefits.gov website to ensure that once they’ve made the pitch, immigrants will have further information about how to act on their advice.

Have the folks at DHS thought about the implications of promoting welfare to immigrants?  Maybe they have.  Perhaps they realize that this will engender in new Americans a culture of dependency rather than self-reliance and hard work.  After all:

 “According to a recent analysis of census data by the Center for Immigration Studies, 36 percent of immigrant heads of households, both legal and illegal, used at least one form of welfare in 2010, compared to 23 percent of native born heads of household.”

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, has given this some thought, and he’s concluded that DHS’s advertising is misleading at best and downright detrimental at worst.  He said, “Some of these programs are clearly not available for immigrants, and it just creates confusion out there and suggests that if you can get into America, you can leave and get onto these programs.”  He adds, “Many of these people are successful in getting on benefit programs that they are not lawfully entitled to.”

Not only this, but immigration law is supposed to operate in such a way that individuals at risk for receiving public assistance are not admitted in the first place.  It’s disconcerting that the law is of that little consequence to DHS.  It is also out of step with public opinion.  The Washington Post explains research shows that “Democrats and Republicans alike” are not “supportive of immigrants who…have no plans to look for work.”

Heritage recommends that we limit low-skill immigration as an essential part of reforming our approach to welfare.  Citing the fact that “around 15 percent ($100 billion per year) of total means-tested welfare spending goes to households headed by immigrants with high school degrees or less,” Heritage experts state:

“Government policy should limit future immigration to those who will be net fiscal contributors, paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits. The legal immigration system should not encourage immigration of low-skill immigrants who would increase poverty in the nation and impose vast new costs on already overburdened taxpayers.”

This country has been known as a melting pot for a reason: we are a country of immigrants and immigrants’ descendents.  But equally integral to our identity is a steadfast respect for the rule of law.  These two uniquely American attributes both draw their strength and integrity from another essential American characteristic: hard work.

Whether first generation or the great, great, great grandchild of an immigrant, it’s safe to say most people are proud to be here and couldn’t imagine another place to live on earth that’s better than the United States.   Conservatives understand the benefits of legal immigration, but advertising welfare benefits to immigrants is akin to adding water to an already sinking ship.  As Heritage’s Robert Rector states:

“Putting ever-greater numbers of Americans on welfare is not a mark of success. Although government spending may artificially prop up living standards, it utterly fails in the real task of building self-sufficiency. The growth of welfare is unsustainable, and is no way to promote the authentic well-being of Americans.”

Do we really want to entrench immigrants to this country in a position of dependency, or do we want them to use the energy and vigor with which they entered the country for hard work and success?  Conservatives, at least, are opting for the latter choice.

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