Tak­ing The Gop Immigration De­bate Be­yond Trump

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - By BY­RON YORK NEA Con­trib­u­tor

Head­ing to a game at Ge­or­gia soon? Did you hap­pen to get a selfie or some kind of shot of Nick Chubb? Want to see your­self in the pa­per? Once a month through the sea­son, we’re hop­ing to put to­gether a page of “spot­ted with Nick Chubb” shots. Af­ter the game, e-mail your photos to [email protected] npco.com and at the end of ev­ery month start­ing on Sept. 30, we’ll in­cluded them in the sports sec­tion of the Stan­dard Jour­nal!

Miss last week’s Nick Chubb poster? Don’t worry, we still have copies here at the Stan­dard Jour­nal. Pick them up to­day for 80 cents at the of­fice.

Yes, Don­ald Trump de­serves credit for putting immigration in the mid­dle of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bate. But at the same time, Trump has fo­cused much of the con­ver­sa­tion ei­ther on side is­sues, like birthright cit­i­zen­ship, or on im­pos­si­bil­i­ties, like the mass de­por­ta­tion of mil­lions of illegal im­mi­grants.

A more prof­itable de­bate might fo­cus on is­sues raised in a new study from the Cen­ter for Immigration Stud­ies, a group that fa­vors lim­it­ing fu­ture lev­els of immigration. Un­der the wonky ti­tle “Wel­fare Use by Im­mi­grant and Na­tive House­holds: An Anal­y­sis of Med­i­caid, Cash, Food, and Hous­ing Pro­grams,” the study could form the ba­sis of a new de­bate over the num­ber and type of im­mi­grants com­ing to the United States in years to come.

Re­ly­ing on de­tailed cen­sus data, the re­port finds that im­mi­grant house­holds make use of U.S. wel­fare pro­grams -- food and cash as­sis­tance, Med­i­caid and hous­ing pro­grams -- much more than na­tive-born house­holds. “In 2012, 51 per­cent of house­holds headed by an im­mi­grant (le­gal or illegal) re­ported that they used at least one wel­fare pro­gram dur­ing the year, com­pared to 30 per­cent of na­tive house­holds,” con­cludes study au­thor Steven Ca­marota.

Ca­marota found that both newly- ar­rived im­mi­grants and im­mi­grants who have been in the U.S. for many years use wel­fare pro­grams more than na­tives. Most of the im­mi­grants in the study were work­ing, and most were in the U.S. legally. The dif­fer­ences be­tween them and na­tives, es­pe­cially in some pro­grams, were strik­ing.

“Im­mi­grant house­holds have much higher use of food pro­grams (40 per­cent vs. 22 per­cent for na­tives) and Med­i­caid (42 per­cent vs. 23 per­cent),” Ca­marota writes. “Im­mi­grant use of cash pro­grams is some­what higher than na­tives (12 per­cent vs. 10 per­cent) and use of hous­ing pro­grams is sim­i­lar to na­tives.”

Ca­marota found that an im­mi­grant’s home coun­try makes a big dif­fer­ence in whether he or she is likely to use wel­fare pro­grams.

“House­holds headed by im­mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica and Mexico (73 per­cent), the Caribbean (51 per­cent), and Africa (48 per­cent) have the high­est over­all wel­fare use,” he writes. “Those from East Asia (32 per­cent), Europe (26 per­cent), and South Asia (17 per­cent) have the low­est.”

Ed­u­ca­tion plays an im­por­tant role in the story. Among house­holds headed by an im­mi­grant with­out a high school de­gree, 76 per­cent used wel­fare. Among those headed by an im­mi­grant with a high school de­gree, 63 per­cent used wel­fare. And even among house­holds headed by an im­mi­grant with a col­lege de­gree, 26 per­cent used wel­fare -- sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the fig­ure (13 per­cent) for col­lege- ed­u­cated na­tives.

Crit­ics im­me­di­ately at­tacked the re­port, but with­out much ef­fect. A blog­ger for the lib­er­tar­ian Cato In­sti­tute ar­gued that it is un­fair to com­pare im­mi­grants, who tend to be poorer, to the na­tive pop­u­la­tion as a whole, which tends to be bet­ter off; the sug­ges­tion was that poor im­mi­grants should be com­pared only to poor na­tives. But the point of the study was to com­pare im­mi­grants to na­tives, which is a crit­i­cal ques­tion when for­mu­lat­ing immigration pol­icy.

As far as that pol­icy is con­cerned, the re­port raises sev­eral ques­tions that could shape the Repub­li­can de­bate - - and per­haps the gen­eral elec­tion de­bate, too. The first is that illegal im­mi­grants are gen­er­ally less ed­u­cated and use wel­fare more than le­gal im­mi­grants, so it makes sense to a) make even greater ef­forts to stop illegal immigration, and b) quickly re­turn im­mi­grants who are caught cross­ing the U.S. bor­der il­le­gally.

The sec­ond ques­tion con­cerns le­gal im­mi­grants. Fed­eral pol­icy to­day fa­vors im­mi­grants who have fam­ily mem­bers al­ready in the U.S., with the re­sult be­ing the ad­mis­sion of large num­bers of rel­a­tively un­e­d­u­cated, low-skilled im­mi­grants. Al­most all immigration re­form­ers want to change that bal­ance in fa­vor of ad­mit­ting more ed­u­cated, high-skilled im­mi­grants. But how will they do it?

Fi­nally, there is the ques­tion of how many im­mi­grants to ad­mit into the U.S. al­to­gether. Is the cur­rent num­ber -about one mil­lion le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents per year, in ad­di­tion to hun­dreds of thou­sands of other sorts of visa hold­ers -- the right amount? Should the coun­try pass an immigration re­form bill that greatly in­creases that num­ber? Should the fig­ure be re­duced?

And what about this: It is not well known, but U.S. law (Sec­tion 212( a)( 4) of the Immigration and Na­tion­al­ity Act) specif­i­cally for­bids the ad­mis­sion of any im­mi­grant who is likely to de­pend on public as­sis­tance. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, like the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion be­fore it, re­fuses to en­force the law. What should the next pres­i­dent do?

There are lots of other wor­thy immigration ques­tions for Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to con­sider -- the bor­der wall, treat­ment of crim­i­nal illegal im­mi­grants, crack­ing down on those who over­stay visas and more. But this new re­port will be a cru­cial part of any GOP de­bate go­ing for­ward.

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