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Legal Immigrant Households Account for 75 Percent of Immigrant Welfare Use


Households headed by legal immigrants are more likely to tap into America’s welfare system than their native-born counterparts, according to a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies.

In a companion analysis to last week’s CIS study looking at all immigrant welfare use, Thursday CIS is set to release a follow up report breaking down welfare use separately for legal and illegal immigrant households.


According to the report, provided to Breitbart News in advance of its release, 49 percent of households headed by a legal immigrant participated in at least one welfare program in 2012, compared to 30 percent of native-headed households and 62 percent of illegal immigrant-headed households.

While there are restrictions on immigrant welfare use, the report highlights that such bars have not been particularly effective due to a wealth of exceptions.

“[T]hese restrictions do not prevent immigrant households from making extensive use of welfare programs because restrictions often apply to only a modest share of legal immigrants at any one time, some programs are not restricted, there are numerous exceptions and exemptions, and some provisions are entirely unenforced. Equally important, immigrants, including those illegally in the country, can receive welfare on behalf of their U.S.-born children,” the report explains.

Notably, immigrants admitted to the U.S. as refugees are immediately eligible for welfare.

The report highlights that less educated immigrants are most likely to use every kind of welfare program.

“Education level plays a larger role in explaining welfare use than legal status. The most extensive use of welfare is by less- educated immigrants who are in the country legally. Of households headed by legal immigrants without a high school diploma, 75 percent use one or more welfare programs, as do 64 percent of households headed by legal immigrants with only a high school education,” the report reads.

Households with children tend to use welfare at a higher rate across all three categories (legal, illegal, and native) of households.

Among legal immigrant households with children 72 percent accessed welfare in 2012. Meanwhile 87 percent of illegal immigrant households with children accessed welfare that year compared to 52 percent of native households with children.

Broken down by program category, CIS notes that legal immigrant households are still more likely than their native-born counterparts to access cash programs (14 percent to 10 percent), food programs (36 percent to 22 percent) and Medicaid (39 percent to 23 percent).

Illegal immigrants are likewise more likely to use some of those categories of welfare, with 57 percent of illegal immigrant households using food programs compared to 22 percent of native-born Americans. Medicaid use among illegal immigrant households is also higher compare 51 percent to 23 percent of native-households. Illegal immigrants use cash assistance and housing programs at a lower rate than native-born households — five percent to ten percent and four percent to six percent, respectively.

While a greater percentage of illegal immigrants use welfare than legal immigrants, legal immigrants make up about 75 percent of immigrant households tapping into at least one welfare program.

Steven Camarota, the author of the report and CIS’ research director, explained in an interview with Breitbart News that while illegal immigrant use is interesting, the use of welfare by legal immigrants is a greater concern.

“Bottom line, what this tells us is either we select immigrants who are unlikely to access welfare or we accept the costs. Trying to keep immigrants off welfare once they’re here is like locking the barn door once the horse is out,” Camarota said.

Camarota quoted food assistance figures showing that for legal immigrant households with children, 63 percent were on at least one food program, calling the inability of legal immigrant households to feed their own children a “fundamental failure of our legal immigration system.”

“Legal immigration is a discretionary policy of the federal government. We can allow in whoever we want or keep anyone we want out. The goal is supposed to be to benefit us. These data call that profoundly into question,” he said.

The high welfare use holds true even if the immigrant household has a worker present as the nation’s welfare system is largely designed to assist low-income workers with children. According to the report there was a worker present in 85 percent of legal immigrant-headed households and 95 percent of illegal immigrant-headed households.

“A person may work, but also create very significant costs for the welfare system. However, those costs are diffuse, borne by all taxpayers, while employers get the workers they want and the immigrants improve their lives by coming to the United States,” the report reads. “Focusing only on the desire of employers to bring in additional workers or the desire of immigrants to come to America misses the potentially enormous impact immigrant workers can have on American taxpayers.”

“When welfare is taken into consideration, allowing immigrant workers into the country to perform low-wage jobs is clearly problematic,” it continues. “It would, at least from the point of view of avoiding welfare expenditures, make more sense to hire from the enormous pool of less-educated natives not working rather than adding less-educated individuals through our immigration system.”

Beyond the fiscal costs, Camarota noted immigrants’ high welfare use likely has political implications as well as recent surveys have shown immigrants tend to prefer big government policies.

“If your goal is to curtail the welfare state adding more voters who use it certainly makes [growing] it more likely,” he added.

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