Other than in voting and jury duty, our government routinely treats aliens as equal to citizens; both are guaranteed fair trials and freedom of speech, for instance, and that's appropriate.
But what about situations in which the government, either by law or by administrative decision, treats aliens — sometime including illegal ones — better than citizens? Does that ever happen? And if it does, is that good public policy?
The answer is that this uneven treatment happens all the time, but there is virtually no discussion of the matter and, in many cases, the citizens who are discriminated against are totally unaware of their differential, harmful treatment.
The U Visa. Let's start with a mild example. Henry is a citizen; he was physically assaulted while trying to break up a burglary, and his injuries sent him to the hospital for several days.
Jose, an illegal alien, suffered the same fate as Henry.
In both cases the burglar was later caught, tried, and sent to jail. In both cases Henry and Jose cooperated with the police, the prosecutors, and the courts.
But Jose, who secured a U nonimmigrant visa for cooperating with cops later turned that visa into a green card, and is now a legal permanent resident of the United States, a huge benefit. There was no comparable benefit for Henry.
This is the least distressing of our four examples. The alien gets a benefit; the citizen does not, but the individual citizen is not hurt by the process. The body politic, however, has taken on one more alien (and his or her relatives) who was not selected for his or her skills, but for his or her bad luck. It is a strange way to recruit newcomers to this land.
Food Stamps. Moving up in intensity a notch, let's look at another situation. In this case, two nearly identical families are facing economic difficulties; both consist of a father and a mother and two children; both have the same (low) income. The wife and the two children are citizens in both families, but the father in one (Juan) is an illegal alien, and in the other a citizen (John).
The income of the families is in a range in which — in most states — the family with the illegal alien in it qualifies for food stamps, while the all-citizen family (despite the identical income) does not get food stamps. The details of this operation are described in an earlier report of mine.
This is a more serious situation than with U visas in that not only does Juan's family get benefits, but potentially identical benefits are denied to John and his whole family. So John and family are hurt financially, and in virtually all cases John never realizes the discrimination. (John knows that his family did not get food stamps, but is almost certain not to know that Juan and his family did get the benefits.)
We now turn to a more egregious, if relatively small-scale, form of anti-citizen discrimination.
Self-Petitioning Spouses. There are two unhappily married couples. There are, fortunately, no children involved. Jack and Jean are both citizens; Hank, a citizen, married Henrietta, a non-citizen. Jean and Henrietta both sought and obtained divorces from their spouses. State courts awarded, after an open trial in which all parties could testify, alimony to both of the women.
That's the end of it as far as Jack and Jean are concerned. Theirs is a common and sad story; many of their peers are also divorced, and while they probably are deeply annoyed with each other and bitter about unwelcome lawyers' fees, they both remain U.S. citizens. Our government has taken no action against either of them.
But in the case of the other couple, Henrietta secures something more valuable than alimony: She also gets a green card. She tells Department of Homeland Security staff that Hank abused her, and Hank is given no opportunity to testify. She "self-petitions" for a green card on the grounds that she is an abused wife of a U.S. resident (usually a citizen) and routinely, in these cases, receives a favorable ruling, which implies that Hank is an abuser.
Among these four, Henrietta is the only real winner; she has obtained a green card because of the Violence Against Women Act, also described in a posting by my colleague, Dan Cadman.
Jean and Jack, both citizens, remain in that status. The U.S. government has not acted against either of them.
Hank, another citizen, has been labeled, in effect, as a federally certified abuser (without a trial) by DHS, and probably has lost a great deal of money, and a lot of sleep, in the process. We at CIS get letters and phone calls from many Hanks.
Should we be giving legal status, and perhaps later citizenship, to aliens just because they were involved in a failed marriage? Again, it seems an odd way to recruit newcomers to this country.
OPT Work Permits. The biggest of these federal programs, the one that harms the largest number of people, is the strange arrangement in which the federal government actually gives a financial benefit to employers who hire recent foreign college grads (of our colleges and universities) rather than citizen or permanent-resident grads of the same schools.
This program, created without a legislative mandate by the Bush II administration and then expanded by the Obama administration, in effect rules that recent alien college grads are still students and thus they, and their employers, need not pay into the hard-pressed Social Security and Medicare trust funds. U.S. college grads and their employers do not get this break, and most of them are unaware of its existence. The benefit runs for a year for most aliens grads, and for as long as 36 months for those with degrees in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. It is often used by both H-1B employers and recent alien alumni to cover the time between graduation and the arrival of the H-1B visa.
Extent of the Damage. These would seem to be the rough number of citizens and other legal residents every year who are directly negatively impacted by the four programs:
|Food Stamps||460,000 - 700,000 all-citizen families|
|Spouses of self-petitioning aliens||A major fraction of the spouses of the 4,498 alien self-petitioning spouse admissions in 2016|
|OPT job subsidies||Worker victims: About 180,000 resident college grads
Elderly victims: All the tens of millions on either Social Security or Medicare
These estimates are of the order-of-magnitude variety and are based on different statistical systems. We estimated, in the report cited earlier, that 460,000 to 700,000 part-citizen families are likely to benefit from the current food stamps arrangement; it is the roughest of guesses that an equal number of all-citizen families lose by it. I suspect that since there are more citizens in the country than illegal aliens that the latter estimate is overly modest.
The data for the other categories is a little more solid.
Clearly some of the self-petitioning spouses have suffered some abuse; the number of false claims of such abuse, however, has an upper limit, which is the total number of admissions plus adjustments by the self-petitioners in a single year: 4,498 in 2016, the most recent year for which we have data.
The damage done to the resident population (citizens and legal aliens) by the OPT program consists of two elements: loss of jobs for residents, and loss of income for the trust funds.
The job losses come in various levels of harm; some residents lost jobs because of OPT and are now unemployed; others lost better jobs and had to take lesser ones; still others lost full-time jobs and are now working part-time; and some who did not land jobs at all are now supported by Mom and Dad, or by public assistance.
Whatever the level of hurt, it clearly hit 180,000 residents who lost jobs to federally subsidized alien workers. While the notion of paying an employer to hire an alien rather than an equally qualified resident is outrageous, it happens so quietly that most of the resident victims do not know what happened to them. (This program can be terminated, or reduced, by DHS action without need for Congress, but that has not happened. Similarly, agency action or decisions by governors could change the formulae used in the food stamp situation described earlier.)
Perhaps the soundest of these estimates is the damage done to the trust funds, which we estimated in an earlier report to be in the neighborhood of $4 billion a year in 2015. The cost will be billions more in 2019.
These direct losses are, of course, in addition to the hurt millions of us experience indirectly from the needless swelling of the population, and in the case of food stamps, from tax money misspent in the manner described, a cost that may reach $1 billion a year.