Welfare Costs For Immigrants

By John Tanton
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 3, Number 1 (Fall 1992)
Issue theme: "Revealing the costs of immigration"

At one time, factual information about the effects of immigrants on our social welfare system was hard to come by, but now we have an impressive body of knowledge relating to this field. In summary immigrants who have come to the United States since 1965 are generally less well-educated and have fewer job skills and poorer language abilities than immigrants of earlier eras. It is hardly surprising to discover that these newer immigrants are more likely to use welfare than their predecessors.

The United States has become a 'welfare magnet' to people around the world. Benefits granted by federal, state, and local agencies are often far higher than typical wage scales in many countries of origin. [See Table 1 below.]


Economists George Borjas of the University of California-San Diego, and Stephen Trejo of the University of California-Santa Barbara, in their study, Immigrant Participation in the Welfare System, confirm the validity of the 'widespread perception that unskilled immigrants are particularly prone to enter the welfare system, and that the entry of large numbers of these immigrants in the past two decades has increased taxpayer expenditures of income transfer programs.' Data from the 1970 and 1980 Censuses indicate that immigrant welfare dependency rates have been rising steadily since the onset of the 1965 immigration revisions and have become significantly higher - both in absolute terms and relative to native-born American citizens. The 1990 Census documents increasing rates of welfare use by immigrants.

'The United States has become

a 'welfare magnet' to people

around the world. Benefits granted

by federal, state and local

agencies are often far higher

than typical wage scales in

many countries of origin.'

Professors Borjas and Trejo find that welfare use increases with the age of an immigrant more quickly than it does among native-born Americans. By law, immigrants are subject to deportation if they become a 'public charge' during their first five years of residency in the U.S. While this provision is almost never enforced, the possibility may discourage some recent immigrants from applying for aid. Borjas and Trejo also discovered that 'the process of assimilation leads immigrants into welfare rather than out of it. [Immigrant] assimilation involves the accumulation of information not only about labor market opportunities, but also about alternative opportunities available through the welfare system.' Research conducted by Lief Jensen supports the conclusions reached by Borjas and Trejo. Writing in the Spring 1988 issue of International Migration Review, Professor Jensen noted that foreign-born residents of the United States were 56 percent more likely than native-born Americans to be living in poverty, 25 percent more likely to receive public aid, and to have an average per capita income from public assistance 13.6 percent higher than natives.

Welfare participation rates differ among immigrants. Those coming from less-developed countries and possessing skills that do not meet the requirements of a high-tech economy are much more likely to use welfare than are skilled immigrants from industrialized nations. The most recent census figures indicate that 29.3 percent of Vietnamese immigrants were on welfare, 25.8 percent of those from the Dominican Republic, 18 percent from Cuba, 12.4 percent from Mexico, all the way down to 4 percent from Denmark and 3.9 percent from Switzerland.


Immigrants are participating in more than fifteen major federally- and state-financed services. [See Table 2.] The largest expense category is public education, kindergarten through high school. Thanks to a 1982 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, taxpayers are required to educate the children of illegal aliens.

Uncompensated medical care provided to illegal aliens at publicly-supported hospitals follows education as the most costly burden to U.S. taxpayers. The average cost to taxpayers is $4700 per admission (Estimated Annual Costs of Major Federal and State Services to Illegal Aliens, Center for Immigration Studies).



Important cost elements that cannot be accurately estimated - but are no less real - are those general services used by all persons residing in an area, regardless of their citizenship, such as police and fire protection, the courts, parks and other public facilities, transportation, and environmental protection. The costs of all of these services rise as population grows.

Since 1970, U.S. immigration policies are responsible for an increase in our population of more than 27 million. Immigrants and their children - because of their high fertility rates - account for more than half of U.S. population growth since 1970. They are likely to contribute two-thirds of the anticipated increase through the remainder of the 1990s, according to demographer Leon Bouvier of Tulane University.

American baby boomers are having small families. But large-scale immigration has doubled U.S. population growth over what it would have been without immigration. Thus, a significant part of the rising costs of public services can fairly be attributed to immigration.


Over the past decade, the courts have acted to extend welfare eligibility to illegal aliens. It seems odd that people who have broken federal statutes and are not legal residents of the United States are nonetheless entitled to a host of benefits at taxpayers' expense. There can be little doubt that the expansion of aliens' 'rights' to include welfare is acting as a spur to more immigration, both legal and illegal.

A milestone in the continuing controversy over entitlements received by illegal aliens was the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, which overturned a Texas law that denied school districts' funds for the education of children who are themselves illegal aliens. The Texas law gave districts the option of denying them admission or of charging tuition.

In their 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court majority declared this sensible law unconstitutional on the basis that no state may 'deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.' This, however, does not mean that a state cannot treat different classes of people differently. The Court has upheld the right of particular states to charge residents of other states higher 'non-resident' tuition at public schools. In this case, the Court ruled that children who are residing in the country illegally have a right to free education paid for by the citizens of any state where they just happen to be living. The average per pupil cost in U.S. public schools is currently $4,800 annually, thus the total cost to taxpayers for educating the children of illegal aliens is running into billions of dollars. This figure does not take into account the extra costs for the bilingual education programs in which many of these students are enrolled.

A number of state courts have delivered rulings extending welfare benefits to illegal aliens. They have based their decisions on the curious legal concept of 'Permanent Resident Alien Under Color of Law' (PRUCOL). This doctrine treats illegal aliens as lawfully present and thus fully entitled to all public aid, unless the individual alien has been served with a formal deportation order by the INS. An example of how this applies in practice is a 1984 California Court of Appeals ruling that extended medical benefits to illegals who are not undergoing federal deportation proceedings. Since that ruling, California taxpayers have been hit with hundreds of millions of dollars in unreimbursed medical expenses incurred by illegal aliens. If the employers of illegal aliens had to absorb these costs, they would likely have second thoughts about how profitable it is to hire them.

Similarly, in 1984, the Arizona State Supreme Court ruled that counties should reimburse hospitals for treating 'resident' illegal aliens. Justice Stanley Feldman, writing for the majority, averred that illegal aliens establish residency in Arizona just by living in a county permanently, provided they do not seek a permanent home elsewhere. As de facto county residents, they are entitled to health and other taxpayer-financed welfare benefits.

The state of Illinois tried to remove illegal aliens from its welfare rolls by asking food stamp applicants about their immigrant status. But after the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) filed a lawsuit challenging this directive of the Illinois Department of Public Aid, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ordered the IDPA to stop questioning applicants about their nationality.

'...large-scale immigration has doubled

U.S. population growth over what it

would have been without immigration.

Thus, a significant part of the rising

cost of public services can fairly

be attributed to immigration.'

A Federal District Judge in Brooklyn, New York, ruled in 1986 that illegal aliens living in New York State could not be denied Medicaid assistance. In response to a suit filed on behalf of nine 'non-legal permanent resident aliens' by Washington Square Legal Services, Judge Charles Sifton declared that the Federal statute creating Medicaid contained 'no express restrictions on alien eligibility' and that Federal authorities had thus acted improperly when they forbade Medicaid for illegal aliens. In his decision, Judge Sifton said that those 'who are colloquially referred to as 'illegal aliens'' were, more accurately, people who had established permanent residence in this country but who had not yet been granted legal permanent resident status. Thus, through a series of decisions, illegal aliens have been granted 'squatter's rights' to the American welfare system.



Costs incurred by aliens are borne most heavily by state and local governments. The U.S. Congress has opened our borders to millions of people from around the globe, while making the states and cities where aliens settle responsible for bearing most of the costs incurred by these newcomers. State and municipal officials complain - correctly - that they are now being overwhelmed by escalating costs associated with the large-scale immigration of poor and unskilled people. And since immigration is a Federal issue, they argue, it should be dealt with at that level.

But while they bemoan the costs incurred by the current wave of immigrants, few of them are lobbying in Washington, D.C. for reducing the immigrant flow. On the contrary, throughout the 1980s, many states and municipalities declared themselves 'sanctuaries' for aliens and have openly refused to cooperate with the INS in its efforts to apprehend illegal aliens or bar them from public services. Too often, they have offered programs that have tended to encourage aliens to move to their jurisdictions.

'Of those arrested during the

Los Angeles riots of May, 1992

many were illegal aliens.'

Under pressure from ethnic lobbyists, in late 1983, the Los Angeles County Department of Public and Social Services announced that they would refuse to forward to the INS the names of illegal aliens applying for welfare.

In February 1984, California Governor George Deukmejian ordered the state's Employment Development Department not to implement directives that required non-citizens to provide proof that they were legally entitled to work before they could receive payments. This would have made it more difficult for illegal aliens to get unemployment insurance.

The city of San Jose, California, in May, 1984, declared that it would refuse to cooperate with the INS in weekly sweeps for aliens working illegally in Silicon Valley. Even though these on-site raids opened up jobs for American citizens, San Jose officials charged that the INS was 'discriminatory, inhumane, and callous.' The San Jose City Council voted 9-2 in favor of a resolution calling for the municipal police, 'to the extent legally possible,' to withhold any assistance to the INS in searches for illegal aliens employed locally.

In November, 1990, the Los Angeles City Council voted in favor of a set of policy guidelines that placed further restrictions on Los Angeles Police Department cooperation with Federal immigration authorities. As early as 1979, the LAPD, under Special Order 40, was prohibited from contacting the INS when they arrested an illegal alien, unless the alien was guilty of drug charges or a felony. The 1990 City Council action reaffirmed the intent of Special Order 40, and barred the Los Angeles police officers from arresting suspected illegal aliens.

Of those arrested during the Los Angeles riots of May, 1992, many were illegal aliens. When the LAPD handed over some of the alien rioters to the INS, who promised to quickly deport them, immigrant rights activists protested that this was in direct contravention of city policy not to turn over people to the INS. LAPD spokesman Lt. John Dunkin acknowledged that, 'This was a departure from our normal policy, but this was not a normal situation.'

Other states and municipalities have followed California's lead. In March, 1985, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, barred its police and other employees from cooperating with the INS. The city of Chicago quickly issued similar directives to its officials. The Cambridge, Massachusetts City Council voted in April, 1985, to cease cooperating with the INS and extended educational and health services to illegal aliens.

New York City Mayor Edward Koch issued an executive order prohibiting city agencies from barring illegal aliens from signing up for welfare benefits. Municipal officials could be fired if they attempted to discourage illegal aliens from obtaining taxpayer-provided services. Illegal immigrants who can prove that they have lived in the city for more than two years are even entitled to financial benefits denied to American citizens from out of town. A flier signed by Koch and distributed by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs in May, 1988, declared, 'Immigrant New Yorkers It's Your City Too! Documented or undocumented, you are entitled to many City services....' Illegal aliens were assured that 'It is the City's policy not to report you to immigration authorities....I urge you to make use of them [city welfare and education benefits] so you and your family can have the best possible life.' Mayor Koch went on to emphasize that, 'Many of these services are free.' It is no surprise that New York, a city perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy, has become a destination of preference for hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, in 1984, ordered municipal agencies not to check the legal status of people applying for city services. As word spread that the nation's capital had become a 'sanctuary,' illegal aliens flooded into the city.

On May 6 and 7, 1991, Central American immigrants, many of them illegals from El Salvador, engaged in two nights of rioting in our nation's capital. The mayhem followed the shooting of a Salvadoran, Daniel Gomez, during his arrest for drinking in public. During the second night of violence, black and white hoodlums joined the Salvadorans in rioting and looting. After what passes for order in Washington, D.C. was restored, leaders of Washington's immigrant community demanded more Spanish-speaking police officers, better jobs and job-training programs, and more recreational facilities in their neighborhoods.

'California Governor Pete Wilson

has pointed out ... 'There is a limit

to our ability to absorb

immigrant populations.''

Extending welfare benefits to illegal aliens is a practice that is no longer limited to state and local officials. In 1990, the city of Costa Mesa, California, tried to reserve federally subsidized public housing for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants. But U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Jack Kemp, ruled that, 'HUD's community development programs do not require citizenship or lawful resident alien status for eligibility.' Kemp went on to remark that, in his opinion, 'it would be discriminatory and counterproductive' to prohibit illegal aliens from living in public housing projects. He feared that if Costa Mesa and other cities were allowed to reserve public housing for legal residents this would have an 'inflammatory impact in communities that we don't want in America.'

Given this scandalous record of failing to speak out for a controlled immigration policy, and then extending benefits to those here illegally, perhaps state and local governments have only themselves to blame for this portion of their financial plight.


The settlement of hundreds of thousands of new immigrants is costing taxpayers across the country hundreds of millions of dollars a year. States and cities where aliens concentrate are especially hard hit.


California faces a $14 billion state budget deficit as the costs of education, medical care, welfare, and crime escalate. Governor Pete Wilson has pointed out that each category has been significantly inflated by the heavy flow of immigrants - both legal and illegal - into the state. Speaking of the state's recent immigrants, Wilson said, 'We have consumers of expensive services, and they continue to grow. ... There is a limit to our ability to absorb immigrant populations.'

Figures compiled by California's Department of Finance show that the state has become a magnet for aliens

* One-third of all refugees admitted by the U.S. settle in California. Of all refugees, 90 percent begin receiving public aid within the first four months of their residency.

* An estimated 200,000 refugees who originally went to other states resettled in California during the 1980s. (Incidentally, there is no constitutional way to require immigrants to live in specified areas, which might help spread their burden.)

* During the 1980s, 1.6 million legal foreign immigrants migrated to California.

* The state experienced an estimated net increase of 1 million illegal aliens during the 1980s. Of that figure, 85 percent of them are Hispanic; another 10 percent are Asian. For scale combining these three numbers comes to 2.8 million, or more than ten percent of California's 1980 population of 24 million.

Governor Wilson was correct to cite immigra-tion as a major contributor to the state's fiscal crisis. The following is a sample of the costs associated with large-scale immigration to the state

* State-funded Medical services for pregnancy and emergency care for illegal aliens will cost an estimated $395 million in 1992.

* Illegal alien children comprise almost 7 percent of the state's total school population. Their education is costing Californians nearly $2 billion a year.

Under current law, most alien children - whether their parents are here legally or illegally - must be taught in their native language in programs that cost, on average, $6600 per student annually, versus $4000 per student per year to educate children who are fluent in English. Nearly 100 languages are now spoken in California schools. And bilingual teachers receive bonuses of up to $5000.

California's schools used to rank among the nation's very finest. But now they are at the bottom of schools in industrial states. As Newsweek, May 4, 1992, reported, 'the student population is exploding - fueled by a wave of mostly poor, mostly non-English-speaking immigrants - many of them illegal. The situation has grown so desperate ... that California would have to build a new 600-student school every day for five years just to maintain its sorry status quo.' By the year 2000, the state's student population is expected to rise 46 percent, to nearly 7 million.

As Ted Hilton, director of the San Diego-based Coalition for Immigration Law Enforcement, observed, 'Without this [additional educational] financial burden, California could substantially reduce its current budget deficit ... and improve the quality of education of all its lawful residents - including impoverished African-Americans and other minorities, and also legal immigrants - if we didn't have to educate unlawful residents as well.'

According to Michael Antonovich, chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County and its county and city school districts are currently paying an estimated $1.16 billion every year for services provided to illegal aliens. This burden substantially contributed to the Los Angeles Unified School District's 1991 $274 million deficit.

Richard Dixon, Chief Administrative Officer for Los Angeles County, issued a report on April 22, 1991, outlining the impact that illegal immigration is having in their jurisdiction. Said Dixon, 'The Federal government's inability to control our nation's borders has resulted in an ever growing impact on the County; the estimated net cost to the County of services provided to undocumented aliens has grown from $207.2 million in 1989-90 to $276.2 million in 1990-91.'

Among the categories of largest cost are Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) payments for the citizen-children of illegal alien parents, who numbered 97,665 [in Los Angeles County] by February, 1991. Total AFDC payments to these new citizen-children increased from $103.9 million in 1988-89 to $249.1 million in 1990-91. 'A major concern is that total AFDC payments to these children and their families could easily reach $1 billion a year by the end of the decade, even if illegal immigration levels off. ... The number of citizen-children can be expected to grow due to the high birthrate of the undocumented alien population who are disproportionately of child-bearing age,' Dixon's report noted.

During 1990-91, nearly 63 percent of the 57,366 births in Los Angeles County-funded hospitals were to mothers who are illegal aliens, an increase of 40 percent from 1988-89.

Despite increased state and federal funding, the County has been forced to assume an enormous burden for unreimbursed health care costs for illegal aliens, as the following table indicates

Los Angeles County

Unreimbursed Health Care Costs


1983-84 $99.8 million

1984-85 $114.9 million

1985-86 $123.7 million

1986-87 $125.8 million

1987-88 $141.6 million

1988-89 $163.0 million

(County of Los Angeles

Department of Health Services)

Los Angeles County's Board of Supervisors is to be commended for its interest in trying to determine just how much immigration is costing their taxpayers. In regard to San Diego County, an August 1992 report by the state Auditor General's Office concludes that the net cost of undocumented immigrants in that county is $146 million a year. Nine percent of the population of San Diego county is here illegally, including 25,000 children. AFDC funds totalling $11 million assist births to undocumented women. It has been conservatively estimated that the net costs of services for the undocumented in San Diego County alone are enough to cover the 1991-92 budget deficits of the county of San Diego and all the eighteen cities of the region.

At the Chula Vista welfare office near the border, the parking lot is often full of cars with Baja [California], Mexico license plates. Rules concerning a client's 'privacy' have interfered with efforts to delete illegal aliens from the welfare rolls, despite the fact that illegal aliens arrested by the Border Patrol have been found carrying food stamps and California welfare checks.

'Rules concerning a client's 'privacy'

have interfered with efforts to delete

illegal aliens from the welfare rolls,

despite the fact that illegal aliens

arrested by the Border Patrol

have been found carrying food stamps

and California welfare checks.'


Like California, Florida has been a major preferred destination for aliens from around the world. Approximately one million refugees arrived in Florida during the 1980s, and many remain there.

Immigration has had a significant impact on the state's budget, its tax load, social services, job market, natural resources, and infrastructure. Assistance to Cubans and Haitians who entered in the 1980s has cost Florida taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitation Services, welfare payments to aliens from Central America who have applied for 'refugee' status are costing taxpayers $47 million a year. At the beginning of the 1992 legislative session, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Health and Rehabilitative Services, State Representative Elaine Gordon (D-North Miami), introduced legislation that would have barred some asylum applicants from receiving welfare. This seemingly sensible measure would have saved Florida taxpayers $23 million or more annually, but in early March, the Florida Senate rejected her bill, after it had passed the House.

In a March 4, 1992 letter to President Bush, Dade County (Greater Miami) Public Schools Superintendent Octavio Visiedo pointed out that 26 percent of their students were born outside of the United States. An average of 1200 foreign-born students enrolled in Miami-area schools each month during the 36-month period ending January, 1992. During 1991-92, the operating expenditure per student came to $4,336. The immediate cost of providing classroom space for the students - who hail from 118 foreign countries - is $136 million, with a long-range construction cost estimated to be $665 million. This does not include operation and maintenance.


Texas receives the third largest number of immigrants. Immigration has an impact on every aspect of Texas life - education, social service costs, and job displacement.

During the 1980s, 594,628 legal immigrants settled in Texas, and 174,132 more arrived in 1990. The number of illegal aliens living in the state is not known. However, the Border Patrol apprehended 418,705 persons trying to enter Texas surreptitiously from Mexico in 1991. Since the Border Patrol estimates that for every illegal alien arrested, two to three enter undetected, a low estimate for illegals entering through Texas in 1991 would be one million or more. How many eventually return home is also not known - the INS stopped keeping records on those leaving the country in 1957.

The cost to Texas taxpayers of educating the children of illegal aliens is heavy and rising. A 1990 Texas news survey determined that illegal aliens were costing schools in the Texas border area as much as $26 million.

State-wide social service costs incurred by aliens are not available, but in 1991, El Paso County estimated that illegal aliens used $3 million in services from the R. E. Tomason General Hospital. To offset health services provided to illegals, El Paso taxpayers were hit with a substantial property tax increase for 1992.

In 1991, Valley Baptist Medical Center lost approximately $750,000 because of 420 'drop-in' deliveries for Mexican women; that same year, Edinburg Hospital rendered $31 million in unreimbursed health care to Mexican citizens.

New York

New York ranks fourth among immigrant-receiving states. Most immigrants reside in New York City, 28 percent of whose residents are foreign-born. Since the early 1980s, New York has also been among the states offering the most enticing package of social service benefits to aliens, legal and illegal alike. Although education, health care, and other costs are high, the total cost to taxpayers of this generosity is not known.

Over the past three years, New York City public schools have enrolled 120,000 children from 167 countries. Often illiterate in their native languages, New York City has cut back on the number of regular teachers, while trying to fill vacancies for bilingual instructors, often imported for this purpose. As The Christian Science Monitor reported in its issue of May 18, 1992, 'After Spanish, the most commonly spoken languages at the schools are Chinese, Urdu, and Bengali. Every notice is sent home in Spanish and English, even report cards. Translators are present at all parent-teacher conferences.' Immigrant language programs are costing New York City taxpayers $130.6 million every year.

'Since the early 1980s, New York

has also been among the states

offering the most enticing package

of social service benefits to

aliens, legal and illegal alike.'

Classroom space is very short. City officials estimate that it will cost $4.3 billion to build new schools and renovate existing structures to accommodate the burgeoning student population. Then, of course, these must be maintained and operated at additional cost.

Vast pools of cheap immigrant labor have driven down wage rates in the New York metropolitan area. Jobs that once paid a salary that allowed an individual to support a family no longer do so. High rates of illegal immigration are redefining the underclass.

Sweatshop industries are booming. Chinatown is a center for such enterprises which specialize in the manufacture of clothing, sporting goods, and toys. Pay seldom averages more than $150 for 60-hour work weeks. And living conditions are grim. In April of 1991, housing authorities discovered that a warehouse in lower Manhattan had been divided into dozens of 6-by-9-foot windowless cubicles, smaller than jail cells. Often shared by two or three occupants, each rented out for $300 a month. The residents all shared one toilet, one shower head, and an encrusted gas stove for cooking. The owner was listed as Wing Tat Realty.

Many 'refugees' sponsored by churches and other service agencies have found that the state's welfare benefits exceed wages they might earn, so they do not even bother to look for work. The Buffalo News, September 8, 1991, reported that one Tonawanda church that sponsored more than 300 Ukrainians over the previous two years decided not to bring in any more. 'It was sad to see what the welfare program here did to the people we sponsored,' said the Rev. Mark Hill. Church members were chagrined to learn that welfare provides much more money for families than entry-level jobs. According to Elsa Nachreiner, who works with the refugees, the newcomers' view is 'Why should we work at jobs which do not pay much? We are getting everything we need from welfare.'

State lawmakers have been debating the idea of installing an automatic fingerprint-identification system designed to ferret out welfare abusers. Applicants would be fingerprinted and an optical image of their prints sent to a central computer for matching against the fingerprints of everyone on the general welfare rolls. This system would help prevent the fraud of duplicate claims. Los Angeles instituted this system in April, 1992. New York State Senator Tarky Lombardi, Jr., chair of the State Senate Finance Committee, estimates that such a system could save around $75 million annually. An aide to Senator Lombardi, Robert Penna, noted that 'welfare fraud is a cottage industry in New York.' In general 'all you have to do is have a pulse and you qualify.'

If enacted nationwide, such a system could save taxpayers more than $25 billion a year.

Some communities in New York State are considering rescinding the welcome for 'refugees' they extended in the 1980s. An indication that some New York taxpayers have grown weary of granting 'sanctuary' to any and all, was reported in The New York Times, February 14, 1992. The Suffolk County Legislature, which proclaimed itself a 'refugee sanctuary' in 1986, is considering repealing a measure promising illegal aliens that they will not be reported to the INS if they apply for welfare. Said county representative, Rose Caracappa, who supports repeal of their Illegal Immigrants Access Act, 'The county is dying right now. With the recession going on and the increase in health and social services rolls, we don't have the caseworkers to handle the influx of cases coming in. I feel that as a legislator it's my responsibility to address the needs of the legal residents, before we address the needs of the illegals.'

'Vast pools of cheap immigrant labor

have driven down wage rates in

the New York metropolitan area.

Jobs that used to pay a salary

that allowed an individual to

support a family no longer do so.'

David Grunblatt, chairman of the New York County Lawyer's Association immigration com-mittee, fears that if Suffolk County repeals its welcome for aliens, other parts of the state will do likewise. 'It's one of those cases where the first one to jump in the hot water cools it for everyone else,' Grunblatt remarked.

Victor Jordan, president of the Caribbean African-American Olive Branch, an advocacy group, fumed that, 'Just discussion of the law is enough to intimidate immigrants.' Such measures are 'used to get rid of them [illegal aliens] in general... to make them feel they'll never succeed in Suffolk County.'


Massachusetts ranks seventh in the U.S. as an immigrant-receiving state and fifth in refugee arrivals. Most state and local government agencies and service providers are not required to collect data that could be used to accurately determine the impact of immigration in the Bay State.

It is known that approximately 245,000 legal immigrants, refugees, and illegal aliens settled in Massachusetts during the 1980s - 110,000 of whom are illegal aliens, according to that state's Office for Refugees and Immigrants.

One-fourth of Lowell's 100,000 residents are from Southeast Asia. At the opening of the school year in 1989, over 10 percent of the state's public school students were bilingual, with a primary language other than English.

The unemployment rate of Southeast Asian 'refugees' in Worcester was 50 percent or higher.

According to the latest Census, from 1980 to 1990, the Hispanic component of Massachusetts's population more than doubled, from 141,000 to 288,000. The state's Asian population almost tripled, from 49,000 to 143,000, with the bulk of the increase attributable to immigration.


Defenders of promiscuous immigration have portrayed refugees as successful people, who often make better citizens than native-born Americans. Nearly two decades after the end of the Vietnam War, Indochinese 'refugees' are still pouring into the U.S.

Welfare use by refugees in many areas has been heavy. In San Joaquin County, California, over 78 percent have been receiving public assistance, with 93 percent of the refugee welfare clients claiming AFDC. A United Way study found that the over one million Asian-Pacific aliens living in greater Los Angeles constitute 'a community about to explode' that requires massive increases in social and health services. Gary Wong, United Way task force chairman, observed that, 'Asians tend to suffer from the stereotype that they are the model minority - the scholars, good incomes, stable family life. This study has identified the other side to that.'

Thousands of Laotians have relocated from California to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other states in the interior. Some moved to be with families, living where welfare benefits also happened to be higher. John Petraborg, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Human Services Department, fears that they will become a permanent welfare class 'We're having talks with leaders of the Hmong community to encourage the idea of self-sufficiency.'

Refugees have quickly learned how to milk the 'system' for all it is worth. As Mark Arax reported in the Los Angeles Times

Federal, state, and local officials, responding to reports of widespread welfare fraud among Southeast Asian refugees in California, are calling for stronger law enforcement and increased community education to combat the problem. ... New approaches are needed to deter a large number of refugees who are supplementing welfare benefits with thousands of dollars a year in unreported wages. ... The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will urge better education for refugees about their responsibilities as welfare recipients. Refugees say they can take in considerably more by combining welfare benefits, Medi-Cal, and unreported income [than by working]. [This has] helped create the highest welfare dependency rate in the nation for Asian refugees. ... Several welfare case workers who are Indochinese said that they frequently know when a Southeast Asian family is earning cash from an underground job. But almost always they choose not to investigate, citing cultural reasons and the difficulty of making a successful case against a family.

Jane Gross, in a special story published by The New York Times, December 29, 1991, profiled a Cambodian refugee family who have become 'welfare migrants.'

Say Vann, his wife, and six children, moved sight unseen from Pennsylvania, their initial American state of residence, to sunny California. 'What the Vanns found here [in California] was just what they had hoped for, just what fellow Cambodian refugees promised,' she reported. The Vanns have averaged $200 a month more in welfare payments than they received in Pennsylvania, their medical bills are paid for by Medi-Cal, and they obtain $170 a month in food stamps. The Vann family - including Mr. Vann - is being educated at taxpayers' expense. The senior Vann was a foreman in a sugar factory in Phnom Pehn before coming to the U.S. But since arriving here eleven years ago, the family has collected welfare.

The Vanns are representative of the large, poor families who, Governor Wilson warns, are contri-buting to California's education and health-care crisis, and compounding the impact of the recession. Wilson predicts a fiscal 'train wreck' for a state that has 12 percent of America's population and 26 percent of its welfare load, if costs are not curbed and dependent migrants not discouraged from settling there.


The granting of social benefits to people who have settled here illegally, while requiring of them few of the duties of citizenship, is undermining the very concept of nationhood. As Daniel James remarks in his recent book, Illegal Immigration An Unfolding Crisis (University Press of America, Inc., 1991), 'The concept of community becomes hollow if outsiders can enter it in defiance of its laws and regulations, and swiftly gain entitlements to benefits. The very viability of the U.S. welfare system is threatened when resources for the neediest are diluted by the claims of outsiders, and taxpayers conclude that the number of potential claimants is not limited by national boundaries.' 

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