Immigrants in the United States, 2007
Both immigrants and illegal aliens are more likely to be poor and to use welfare programs than native-born Americans because they come to the country with lower levels of education, according to a new study looking at U.S. Census Bureau data.
“The problem here is not work, or a lack of willingness to work; it’s not legal status; it’s educational level at arrival,” said Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, which is releasing the report today.
The public burden is a major issue, and it was one of the disputes, along with border security and increased enforcement, that helped kill the Senate immigration bill earlier this year.
President Bush and some Senate Republicans had wanted to scrap the family-based immigration system that has dominated for the past 50 years and replace it with a system that awarded points for those with needed job skills, high education levels and English proficiency. But Democrats objected, arguing that family reunification should still be the guiding principle.
Mr. Camarota, whose group calls for a crackdown on illegal aliens and a slowdown in legal immigration, said his numbers show that the family-based system puts a strain on taxpayer-funded services.
“Allowing in legal immigrants mainly based on family relationships, and tolerating widespread illegal immigration, certainly has very significant implications for social services, public schools and taxpayer services,” he said.
He said that makes sense — native-born Americans without a high-school education also are more likely to use welfare or to live in poverty. But he said that means that the burdens illegal aliens places on taxpayers can’t be solved through amnesty because it would not raise education levels.
“You’re not going to fix the problem of high rates of welfare use just by legalizing them — at least for the 57 percent of high school dropouts,” Mr. Camarota said.
Nearly one in three immigrant households nationwide uses a major welfare program, compared with 19.4 percent of native-born American families.
But Angela Kelley, director of the Immigration Law Foundation, said the report didn’t capture the true American experience of immigration.
“Immigrants come to this country; they work hard; if they can get legal status, that improves their chances, they buy homes, they learn English, they intermarry — and it’s been the success story of this nation,” she said.
She said federal laws are very tight about benefits — illegal aliens are not eligible for most types of social services and legal immigrants have to wait years before being eligible.
“There are a lot of numbers in this,” she said. “It’s like they’re trying to take a machine-gun approach and spray us with a lot of bullets and hope the issue dies and goes away.”
The report says overall immigration to the U.S. remains high, with immigrants now accounting for one in eight U.S. residents — the highest level in 80 years. Since 2000, 10.3 million immigrants have arrived, which is the highest seven-year total in U.S. history.
The study also found immigrants and illegal aliens account for 32 percent of those without health insurance nationwide and for 24 percent of those in or near poverty.
That has become an issue as the presidential candidates in both parties wrestle with how to expand health care access. Some candidates have said their plans would cover illegal aliens, although others, such as Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, have ruled that out.
Illegal immigrants in Maryland and Virginia make more money than illegal immigrants nationwide, but their incomes are substantially lower than those of native residents of those states, and they are much less likely to have health insurance, a report says.
The study, released today by the Center for Immigration Studies, estimates that there are 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the country. In Maryland, the 268,000 illegal immigrants are 5 percent of the state’s population; in Virginia, they account for 3 percent of residents, with 259,000. The study used U.S. Census Bureau data from this year.
Counting undocumented immigrants is an inexact science, and it is difficult to determine how much change the numbers reflect. The study does not give an estimate for the District because its immigrant population is substantially smaller than Maryland’s or Virginia’s.
Although the percentage of illegal immigrants in the two states is roughly equivalent to their share of the national population, the study highlights disparities between undocumented immigrants in the Washington area and those elsewhere.
The average household income for illegal immigrants is $45,748 nationally. In Maryland, it’s $58,061; in Virginia, $61,112. The findings may reflect the greater overall wealth of the two states: The average household income for native residents is $83,964 in Maryland and $79,524 in Virginia, compared with $66,952 nationwide.
But Steven A. Camarota, who wrote the report for the Washington-based center, which advocates limits on immigration, said it also suggests that a greater share of illegal immigrants in the Washington region are people who overstayed their entry visas rather than sneaked across the border.
“People who overstay are more likely to be foreign students and guest workers who are more educated. People who cross the border illegally tend to be the least educated,” he said.
Nationwide, almost 59 percent of undocumented immigrants and their children (who may be U.S.-born citizens) are living in or near poverty. The figures are 40 percent in Maryland and 44 percent in Virginia.
Those rates are high compared with those for immigrant families overall (including legal immigrants and their children), 25 percent of whom are living in or near poverty in Maryland, and 31 percent of whom are at those levels in Virginia. Native adults and their children fare best, with the share in or near the poverty level at 19 percent in Maryland and 23 percent in Virginia.
In the two states and nationally, a little more than half of illegal immigrants and their children have no health insurance, compared with about one in 10 native adults and their children.
The study also found higher rates in the use of public assistance by households headed by undocumented immigrants, who are ineligible for almost all benefits but whose children or spouses might qualify for food stamps, cash assistance or Medicaid if they are U.S.-born citizens or legal immigrants.
In Maryland and Virginia, about one in five illegal immigrant-headed households uses some form of social service, compared with one in six in native households in Maryland and one in seven in Virginia. (Nationwide, 40 percent of illegal immigrant-headed households use some type of benefit, compared with 19 percent of native households.)
The disparity between the households of illegal immigrants and native residents is the result not of a lack of work or legal status, Camarota said. “Most illegal aliens work, but their low education levels mean they are going to be very poor, and this results in a significant chance their children are going to rely on key social services,” he said.
Randy Capps, a researcher at the nonpartisan Urban Institute who studies welfare use by immigrants and their children, said illegal immigrant families appear to be largely limiting themselves to programs such as subsidized school lunches and Medicaid. Regarding the program most commonly associated with welfare -- cash assistance to needy families -- fewer than 1 percent of illegal-immigrant households nationwide and in Maryland and Virginia use the benefit, compared with 3 percent of native households in Virginia, 5 percent of native households in Maryland and 5 percent nationwide.
Furthermore, Capps said, studies have shown that low-income children of immigrants are less likely to use social services than low-income children of native parents.
“Many [immigrant] parents are afraid of being reported to immigration services, or they might not even be aware of the program, so they don’t enroll their children,” Capps said.
Immigration over the past seven years was the highest for any seven-year period in American history, bringing 10.3 million new immigrants, more than half of them without legal status, according to an analysis of census data released today by the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.
One in eight people living in the United States is an immigrant, the survey found, for a total of 37.9 million people — the highest level since the 1920s.
The survey was conducted by Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the center, which advocates reduced immigration.
Mr. Camarota has been active in the national immigration debate. Independent demographers disputed some of the survey’s conclusions, but not Mr. Camarota’s methods of data analysis.
A large proportion of recent immigrants, both legal and illegal, are low-skilled workers and about one-third of those have not completed high school, giving them significantly less education than Americans born in the United States, according to the study, which is based on census data as recent as March of this year.
The survey focuses on public costs associated with the new generation of immigrant workers. It does not, however, analyze contributions they make by paying taxes and taking undesirable, low-income jobs — an omission criticized by some immigration scholars.
Still, the survey provides a panorama of the effects of immigration since 2000.
About 30 percent of all immigrants and their children lack health insurance, Mr. Camarota reports, compared with 13 percent of native-born Americans. One of every three uninsured people in the country is an immigrant or a young American-born child with at least one immigrant parent, he found. Immigrant families account for almost three-quarters of the increase in the uninsured in the past 15 years, he concludes.
Immigrants are employed at higher rates than Americans, according to the survey. But because of their low educational levels, many work in low-paying, entry-level jobs that do not provide health insurance or other benefits.
“Immigrants have had an enormous impact on the lack of health insurance,” Mr. Camarota said. “If we are going to have a debate about health insurance, we should recognize that most of the growth in the uninsured comes from recently arrived immigrants and their American-born kids.”
Mr. Camarota was criticized by some immigration scholars for failing to examine the progress immigrant families make the longer they remain and work in the United States.
“This is a one-eyed portrait,” said Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California who has studied immigrants’ use of public services. “It is a profile of immigrants’ dependency without any profile of their contributions.”
Mr. Myers said his research shows that within a decade, new immigrants in California moved up quickly to steadier jobs with more benefits, and the rates of uninsured immigrants dropped sharply.
Mr. Camarota’s analysis suggests why illegal immigration has become the source of contention in many states. The majority of immigrants arriving in recent years are from Mexico and Central America, and more than half of them are illegal.
The states that have received the largest numbers of the new immigrants are also states where immigration has been hotly debated. After five states that have been high on the immigration list for decades — California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas — those receiving the most new immigrants included Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The analysis confirms earlier estimates of about 11.3 million illegal immigrants in this country.
About 31 percent of immigrants over 25 years old, both legal and illegal, have not completed high school, according to Mr. Camarota, compared with 8.4 percent of American citizens. Among adult Hispanic immigrants, nearly 51 percent do not have high school diplomas, he reported.
Mr. Camarota found that about one-third of immigrant families receive some kind of public assistance. The services were mainly food stamps and Medicaid associated with care for their American children, he found. The majority of children in immigrant families, whether the parents are legal or illegal, were born in the United States and so are American citizens.
“The welfare system is designed to help low-income workers with children,” Mr. Camarota said. “The study shows that it is very difficult not to have these public costs if you have low-skilled immigrants in large numbers.”
Mr. Camarota did not present evidence of large scale use of public benefits by illegal immigrants themselves.
Wayne Cornelius, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, who has studied Mexican immigration for decades, called Mr. Camarota’s conclusions about immigrants’ use of public services “misleading.”
The census data, Mr. Cornelius said, does not allow concise estimates of use of public services by illegal immigrants.
Mr. Cornelius said his field research in San Diego County had shown that illegal immigrants under-used the health care system, given their health needs.
“They are less likely to have health insurance, but they are also less likely to seek medical attention,” Mr. Cornelius said.
He added that research in California has shown that illegal immigrants from Latin America are far less likely than American Hispanics to use emergency room services or seek public primary care.
Mr. Cornelius also faulted Mr. Camarota for focusing only on first-generation immigrants. The study “obscures the very significant progress that immigrants’ children and their grandchildren typically make,” Mr. Cornelius argued.
Mr. Camarota reported that both legal and illegal immigration have continued to grow. A study in 2005 by another demographer, Jeffrey S. Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, found that the rate of growth of immigration peaked in 2000 and declined somewhat in the next five years.
A study out Thursday focuses on a central question in the immigration debate: Do immigrants help or hurt the USA?
The report by the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes limiting immigration, argues that the current levels hurt the country. Foreign-born adults have less education than native-born citizens and raise the rates of poverty, welfare use and lack of medical insurance, says Steven Camarota, the center's director of research.
"It doesn't seem the country is all that well served by the current immigration policy," Camarota says. "If you have a legal immigration system that mostly lets people in without regard to education, and you tolerate a lot of illegal immigration, you're going to get a very large share of immigrants who will be very low-skilled."
Critics say the study overlooks immigrant contributions. Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California, says immigrants help the economy by working and buying homes.
"If you don't have workers, you can't grow," Myers says. "Immigrants are making up a huge proportion of that."
The study, an analysis of 2007 Census data, concludes that there are 37.9 million foreign-born residents in the USA. It estimates that at least 11.3 million of those immigrants are in the country illegally.
One of the key findings is that 31% of immigrant adults don't have a high school diploma, compared with 8% of U.S.-born residents.
That is important, Camarota says, because it correlates with high rates of welfare and poverty: 33% of households headed by immigrants use at least one major welfare program such as the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, compared with 19% of U.S.-born households. "It costs a lot of money," he says. "Does it make sense to bring in lots of people who don't have lots of education?"
Myers says the economy needs unskilled labor. "You need some manual workers," he says.
He criticizes the study for ignoring homeownership among immigrants, which he says signals their entry into the middle class.
In the 1990s, foreign-born residents accounted for 21% of the growth in homeowners, he says. This decade, they are 40%.
Angela Kelley, director of the American Immigration Law Foundation's Immigration Policy Center, faults the study for analyzing immigrants at one point in time instead of over a longer period.
Over time, she says, immigrants assimilate and succeed.
"Folks learn English, they buy homes. If given the chance, they naturalize and they intermarry," Kelley says. "That is a story as old as America."
Despite public perception, immigrants' proportion of Colorado's population has been relatively stagnant over the past seven years, according to a study to be released today.
The report by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that supports tighter immigration restrictions, said about 9 percent of Colorado residents (435,000) are immigrants, compared with 10 percent in 2000.
Nationwide, the immigrant population increased by 13 percent. Currently, 17 percent of the country's population are immigrants, the study said.
"I think that's a pretty robust conclusion (of there being little change in the immigrant population) even though that is not the perception in Colorado," said Steve Camarota, director of
Danielle Short, human rights program director for the American Friends Service Committee, a Denver- based Quaker peace and justice organization, said it is a misconception that Colorado is flooded by immigrants who are taxing the state's resources.
"It is part of that perception promoted widely by some that is intended to provoke fear that we are being overrun by immigrants," Short said.
Camarota said part of the reason for Colorado's level numbers could be stronger immigration enforcement efforts and a sluggish economy compared with other states.
Short agreed, saying she has heard that "word has gotten out that Colorado is not a welcoming state for immigrants."
In the study, Camarota found that percent of the state's residents are illegal immigrants, making up 39 percent of all Colorado immigrants.
The study also found that immigrants in Colorado earn much less money than their American-born counterparts and are less educated.
Immigrant households in Colorado earn about $35,000 a year, compared with $58,000 for other households. The discrepancy is the second-highest of any state, after Arizona.
Also in the study:
About 35 percent of immigrant households in Colorado use at least one welfare food program, compared with 15 percent of the general population.
About 58 percent of immigrants and their children in Colorado are uninsured, compared with 22 percent of Coloradans who were born in the United States.
Data for the study came from the March 2007 Current Population Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.