2014 Symposium: Should illegal immigrants or any non-citizen be able to receive government financial assistance (i.e. welfare, food stamps, etc.)?

Myrtle Beach: I’ll give this one a RESOUNDING no. I am a 30 year old American female citizen. I work a part time job for 8.00/hour and have no children. Guess what? I “make too much” to receive any sort of assistance. If I had a child that would be another story…but that is an entirely different issue altogether. Now, to be fair I don’t really need it at this very moment in my life; but there was a time when I did, and I was not eligible.

How would it be in any way shape or form fair to give someone here illegally government assistance when an American citizen making minimum wage can’t get it?

Makes me want to go to Mexico, become a citizen, then jump the border. Maybe then I’ll get assistance if I need it.

Raleigh: The problem of illegal immigrants concerns many Americans. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there were 11.4 million illegal immigrants in the USA in 2012, a light decrease from 2011 when there were 11.5 million illegal immigrants in the country. Majority of illegal immigrants come from Mexico (59 percent), El Salvador (6 percent), Guatemala (5 percent), Honduras (3 percent), and Philippines (3 percent). In 2013, only 438,421 illegal immigrants were deported from the USA, once again most of them were from Mexico (72 percent). As such, the reality of many illegal immigrants living in the USA is here to stay; consequently, the question arises whether they should be able to receive government support as many Americans do.

According to the data from 2013 provided by U.S. Census Bureau, 14.5 percent of American citizens live in poverty, which translates to about 45.3 million people. Many of these people rely on government assistance programs such as Social Security payments and welfare which includes such programs as Medicaid; the Women, Children, and Infant (WIC) program; and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), among others. Illegal immigrants are generally prohibited from receiving benefits due to 1996 Welfare Reform Law.

However, numbers tell a different story. According to the article “Welfare Use by Immigrant Household with Children” written in April 2011 by Steven A. Camarota, Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, many immigrants, both legal and illegal, rely heavily on government assistance programs. Thus, in 2010(based on 2009 data), 57 percent of immigrants (both legal and illegal) with children under 18 used at least one welfare program, compared to 39 percent of native households with children. Mostly, immigrants use food assistance and Medicaid programs (their use of housing assistance and cash is similar to native households). Households with children with the highest welfare use rates were the ones from Latin America countries such as the Dominican Republic (82 percent), Mexico and Guatemala (75 percent), and Ecuador (70 percent). Families with the lowest use rates were from the United Kingdom (7 percent), India (19 percent), Canada (23 percent), and Korea (25 percent). Illegal immigrants mostly receive their benefits on behalf of their U.S.-born children, but even the families with no U.S.-born children are able to receive assistance (56 percent).

Why such a discrepancy with a law? The 1996 Welfare Reform Law prohibits the use of benefits for legal immigrants for five years after entering the U.S. and the use of programs for illegal immigrants. However, many legal immigrants are already in the country for more than five years; the ban applies only to some programs; some states provide their own money for the programs; and many immigrants are able to access the programs after their children are born in the U.S. The most important factor which contributes to the high use of benefit programs by the immigrants is that many legal and illegal immigrants have low levels of education which prevents them from obtaining better paying jobs. While 95.1 percent of immigrant families with children have at least one worker, it is simply not enough for them to live without some form of assistance. As such, Camarota recommends that the U.S. should become more selective as to whom they allow to immigrate into the country (preferably, people with college education).

As such, it is obvious that both legal and illegal immigrants have to use the welfare system to support their lives in the U.S.A. How does it affect the country as a whole? Undoubtedly, it puts a tremendous strain on already overused and expensive welfare system. Moreover, most welfare-receiving immigrants do not contribute enough in form of taxes to support their use of assistance programs. Although every country should support their worse-off denizens, it needs to be done more diligently and efficiently.

Asheville: Illegal immigrants still pay taxes. They still buy goods, which means they pay sales taxes. If they own property, they pay state and local property taxes. Their economic activity funds a variety of income-generating activities. They pay into a system; they should be entitled to receive benefits from it.

Beyond the economic justice, providing undocumented workers with financial assistance is socially beneficial. Anyone, regardless of citizenship status, will receive emergency care at any hospital. Most undocumented workers are also poor and uninsured, meaning they will be unable to pay for this care. Hospitals will lose both the cost of the care and the cost of a failed collection effort. They need to recoup this cost, leading to higher health costs across the board. Unless we want to live in a world where people are left to die on sidewalks in front of hospitals, we ought to provide some government assistance to undocumented workers who require health care.

Giving economic assistance to illegal immigrants also helps the economy. A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that every dollar in food assistance translated to $1.78 in economic activity. The poorest of the poor are far more likely to spend money, and they do so in low-skill labor environments, like grocery stores and gas stations. Increased spending at these businesses means they can hire more workers, who then have more money to spend on consumer purchases. Far from being a drain on the economy, poverty reduction programs directed at undocumented workers provide a boon for areas which might otherwise be blighted with cyclical poverty.

Prescott Valley: Illegal immigrants and non-citizens should not be able to receive government financial assistance in the form of welfare, food stamps, insurance programs, free medical care, housing, and other assistance programs, but they are. Only under certain temporary conditions should illegal immigrants or non-citizens be able to receive assistance, and that type of assistance should only occur through charitable organizations that are not tax-payer funded. For too long, illegal immigrants and other non-citizens have received benefits that American citizens pay for and have difficulty collecting on themselves, particularly when they are in serious need of what these programs provide.

Statistics from the Census Bureau and reports from Judicial Watch.com indicate that illegal immigrant and legal immigrant families receiving taxpayer-funded welfare programs are increasing at alarming rates, and these programs cost the government up to $517 billion a year and beyond. The highest welfare use rates are in the states of Arizona (62%), Texas, California and New York at 61% and Pennsylvania at 59%. The study pinpointed costs with eight different welfare programs that included Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for the disabled, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Women, Infants and Children nutritional program (WIC), food stamps, free/reduced school lunch, public housing and health insurance for the poor (Medicaid). Food assistance and Medicaid are the two highest programs of use by illegal immigrants through their anchor born children. Legal immigrants take advantage of every available welfare program as well, due to low education levels and low income jobs. The highest rate of welfare recipients are from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador, which average between 82% to 70% of use. The usage rate is high for new arrivals in the country and for established residents as well.

These figures indicate that the welfare system is being drained by those latching on to programs that should be exclusively reserved for American citizens. With these groups of predominately illegal immigrants, the ease of access to welfare programs has become a way of life, whether they have crossed the borders a few months ago or have resided in the United States for a number of years. Their welfare way of life, with little to no input back into the system, is draining America not only of money, resources and services but jobs that lower income Americans seriously need.

The only answer to the escalating welfare predicament and illegals tapping into it is to cut off the attraction to the incentives these programs provide for people entering and residing illegally in the United States. No country should have to support citizens from another country who have entered illegally, particularly those entering simply to apply for immediate benefits as soon as their feet hit the ground. Welfare programs must be reserved for citizens who have paid into the system all their lives, and up to retirement, or for those citizens who are truly disabled through physical or mental issues. Without strict enforcement of these programs, screening of applicants, and deportation of individuals back to their home countries along with fines and taxes paid, these programs will become unsustainable.

Cartwright: No. Let me make that an emphatic, ‘No.’ Government financial assistance is first and foremost for citizens and taxpayers of the United States. Why would we give any type of benefit to someone who comes to this country, particularly if they come here illegally, and who isn’t a citizen? Illegal immigrants don’t have the same rights as U.S. citizens just because they found a way to sneak into the country or came here on a visa but then didn’t leave. They certainly aren’t entitled to anything, except maybe a one way deportation ticket. We can’t put the burden of taking care of these people and their families on the shoulders of hardworking Americans, some of whom are struggling themselves. If someone is hurt or seriously ill and needs to go to the emergency room for a life threatening injury or condition, they should get treated but it shouldn’t be free. If the illegal shows up with a cold and wants treatment, they should have to pay on the spot or be turned away.

The effort to say that they are already paying into the system is erroneous. Most of these illegals are working for cash, so they’re not paying income taxes which fund entitlement programs. They do pay sales tax when they buy goods but that goes to state and local governments. Since most of them don’t own property and rent living quarters, they’re not contributing to the tax base from which most counties derive funds for police, fire, libraries, public services, and schools.

I find it quite repulsive that people want to give illegals benefits when there are plenty of working poor who can’t get assistance. How do you justify giving the former college student turned illegal welfare or the illegal with ten kids food stamps and at the same time tell the single mom working two jobs that she doesn’t qualify? The illegals milking the system here in the United States need to be rounded up and deported. They’re not contributing to this country; they’re only taking. It should be easy to find these people. If they’re getting a check sent to them, we know where they are. If they’re using the EBT cards, we know where they use them so we should be able to track them down.

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