Rising Tide, Rising Burden

The immigrant population has hit its highest number in 80 years at 37.9 million according to an analysis of 2007 Census Bureau data on legal and illegal immigration, released Thursday by the Center for Immigration Studies.

The study’s data are compelling: in the seven years of the Bush administration, immigration — especially illegal immigration — has grown hugely, imposing a burden on the U.S. economy it may not long be able to sustain.

The Current Population Study (CPS) conducted by Steven Camarota, an advocate of limiting immigration and director of the Center for Immigration Studies, shows that between 2000 and 2007 the immigrant population rose by 7.3 million or 1.04 million per year, and that one in three immigrants is an illegal alien.

Particularly interesting is CPS’ analysis of legal and illegal immigrants accepting government assistance, illustrating growing economic burdens on U.S. taxpayers. The CPS found that 33% of immigrant-headed households use at least one welfare program compared to 19% for natives.

Government welfare programs cost the government about $600 billion a year, reports Camarota. Unskilled legal immigrants (defined as in not having completed high school) make the most use of the welfare system, an estimated 56% of households headed by unskilled legal immigrants use one major welfare program (cash assistance, food assistance, subsidized housing and Medicaid). Camarota told HUMAN EVENTS that the $600 billion is a rough total for federal, state and local payouts, though most of the amount is taken from federal welfare and entitlement programs.

The CPS notes that in most cases illegals can not use the welfare system themselves — but their U.S. born children are eligible for food assistance and Medicaid. New York had the highest rate of illegal alien headed households using major welfare programs with 49%, then California at 48% and Texas at 44%. Overall 40% of illegals in the nation are on welfare.

The study showed that unskilled legal immigrants have high percentages of health insurance coverage, Camarota says this is because “a large share of unskilled legal immigrants and their children use Medicaid which is costly to taxpayers.”

Camarota says this indicates that legalization will not solve the problems of welfare use or low income associated with illegal immigration. In fact, legalization (amnesty) will increase welfare programs.

The burden also falls on state and local education systems. The CIS found that “immigration accounts for virtually all of the national increase in public school enrollment over the last two decades and in 2007 alone there were 10.8 million school-age children from immigrant families in the United States.”

Law makers and pundits remind Americans of the economic benefits of illegal immigration but what about the growing burdens this survey presents?

Immigration reform — securing our borders and dealing with the at least 12 million illegal aliens now here — is a key issue in the 2008 race and the Republican candidates are jockeying for positions on it. In Wednesday night’s CNN/YouTube debate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said, “We are going to have to recognize in this country that we welcome people here legally…we should say if you’re here illegally, you should not be here, we’re not going give you benefits other than those required by the law like healthcare and education.”

Former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani said, “If I were president of the United States, I could do something about that by deploying a fence, by deploying a virtual fence, by having a BorderStat system like my COMSTAT system that brought down crime in New York and just stopping people from coming in and then having a tamper-proof ID card.”

Thompson’s response: “A nation that cannot and will not defend its own borders will not forever remain a sovereign nation. It’s our home. And we now get to decide who comes into our home. We’ve got to strengthen the border. We’ve got to enforce the border. We’ve got to punish employers — employers who will not obey the law. And we’ve got to eliminate sanctuary cities and say to sanctuary cities, ‘if you continue this, we’re going to cut off federal funding for you, you’re not going to do it with federal money’.”

Arizona Sen. John McCain, whose presidential campaign was nearly demolished by his unpopular amnesty bill proposal said, “I want to assure you that I’ll enforce the borders first, that as president of the United States, we’ll solve this immigration problem. And we won’t demagogue it. And we won’t have sanctuary cities.”

In 2008, Americans will demand straight answers from candidates on how they will secure the borders and deal with illegal immigration. The Bush administration’s failure to do this — best demonstrated in CIS’s immigration figures — has caused voters to distrust what politicians have promised before. In 2008, Americans’ will make it impossible for candidates to evade or equivocate. How will they secure the borders? And by what measures will they claim success or failure? We deserve to get straight answers from them all. Conservatives will insist on getting them.