President Trump is getting hit by the left for his latest immigration reform proposal. Under the new plan, immigrants who come to the United States and receive welfare benefits could be denied green cards or visas. His opponents wasted no time labeling this policy racist, of course, contrary to the words of Emma Lazarus on the steps of the Statue of Liberty to “give us your poor, huddled masses,” and a fundamental change from the traditional immigration policies that we have in the United States.
Actually, no. All of those objections are wrong. Indeed, Trump is right. For 200 years, immigrants have been coming to the United States without receiving welfare. In fact, they could be denied entry if immigration officials believed they would become a “public charge.” They had to be economically self-sufficient. Wave after wave of those born abroad have done magnificently well by becoming self-sufficient when they came here, even if they had nothing. The story has been told millions of times over, from Intel chairman Andrew Grove to NBA superstar Joel Embiid.
Most every economic analysis finds that legal immigrants are net contributors to the economy. Not all immigrants are beneficial and, sure, there are bad apples in the bunch. But the benefits of immigration are surprisingly large, mostly because most immigrants are risk takers who come to the United States between the ages of 16 and 40, so they tend to be at the start of their working years or at the peak of their earning years.
The net benefits to American citizens in terms of growing the economy and paying taxes is in the trillions of dollars over the next 40 years, when you include Social Security payments. Skilled immigrants provide the highest benefits. Trump is correct in proposing that we should change the selection process to a merit policy along the lines of what has been adopted in Canada and Australia. This would ensure that we get the best, brightest, and hardest working, regardless of race, origin, or ethnicity.
Most importantly, there should be no welfare benefits for immigrants until they become citizens. That is the deal. To the immigrants, we say, “We will give you the greatest asset in the world, a United States passport allowing you to share in our freedoms and our wonderland of opportunity, but you cannot receive taxpayer welfare benefits. You and your sponsors are responsible for your well being. If an immigrant falls on tough times, then family members, employers, or other sponsors should be held responsible to help them get their feet back on the ground, not the government.”
With entitlement spending exploding and trillions of dollars of future deficits in these programs, we cannot afford to allow foreigners to come to America to collect our generous benefits. We have strong evidence that welfare has the same debilitating dependency effects on immigrants as it does on the native born. It saps them of their economic drive, which is the very attribute that makes immigrants such valuable assets in the first place. For example, Texas has historically offered fewer welfare benefits than California, and it is no surprise that immigrants in California are more likely to be collecting government aid than those in Texas.
Most immigrants do not abuse our welfare system, and government handouts are not the magnet. But too often immigrants come here and the social service agencies sign them up for Medicaid, food stamps, and other assistance. Democrats even argued during the Obama years that putting people on food stamps was a stimulus to local communities.
My suspicion is that if immigrants knew that the deal for the privilege of being admitted to this country and becoming an American is no welfare, there would be no shortage of takers. If freedom and opportunity are not enough of a magnet, then those who would refuse to come under these new conditions probably are not the ones we need anyway.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 8/15/19