N.Y. State Squandered $2.1 Billion to Keep Illegals in the U.S.

When it should have used the money to send them home, in style

By David North on February 6, 2023

A recent report by the Urban Institute records the payment of $2.1 billion by New York State taxpayers to illegal aliens (and much of that indirectly to their landlords) when that money could have been used to send the same 128,000 aliens back to their homelands — in comfort and style.

U.S. taxpayers routinely spend untold billions of dollars a year in an effort to enforce the immigration law; New York taxpayers just spent $2.1 billion to help 128,000 of them continue to break the law. Only in America!

The report by the Urban Institute and an outfit named the Immigration Research Initiative is about a (so far) one-shot program run by New York State called the Excluded [i.e., illegal] Workers Fund (EWF). It was designed to provide funds to illegal aliens who had (appropriately) been excluded from unemployment insurance programs. It started in 2021 and ended three months later when it ran out of money — fortunately, unlike most welfare programs that have continuing mandates, this one self-terminated when the funds were all claimed.

Unlike most unemployment insurance programs, which give a range of weekly benefits to the beneficiaries, with the amount depending on prior earnings and the length of joblessness, EWF had two benefit levels, a one-time check for a thumping $15,600 for 99 percent of the beneficiaries, and $3,200 for the remaining 1 percent. Those with the smaller amounts did not have to meet a different set of requirements; rather, they simply had less plausible applications. I have been dealing with government benefit programs for more than 50 years, and I never heard of a consolation prize for not quite meeting the standards. Typically benefit decisions are either yes or no.

About 80 percent of the beneficiaries were in New York City. When surveyed by the Urban Institute team, and using a survey question not shared with the readers, we find that a huge portion of the grants went to the landlords of the aliens. In a somewhat puzzling graphic (Figure 1) it shows “Areas where Excluded Workers Fund Recipients Spent the Majority of Their Funds” and then listed:

  • Paying overdue or back rent: 68 percent
  • Food: 38 percent
  • Paying back debt/loans: 29 percent
  • Paying ongoing rent: 19 percent

No other items got more than 7 percent.

Clearly the percentages add to more than 100 percent. The eight authors of the report should have figured out a better question, and/or a better way of presenting the data. What it does show is that what one might have been called, in an earlier day, “slumlords” were the unwitting beneficiaries of much of the $2.1 billion.

One of the report’s conclusions was that “the amount of aid to the vast majority of workers, $15,600, was nearly as much as the annual amount other New Yorkers who lost work were getting in unemployment insurance.”

In short, there was a large tilt, in New York alone, toward the illegals and away from the legal recipients of unemployment insurance; and when the illegals got their checks, as the report does not say, they got it all at once, and did not have deal with the weekly or bi-weekly checks like the rest of the unemployed.

What Should Have Been Done with the EWF

Given some of the innovations in EWF, deplorable though these payments were, may we suggest a different innovative approach should the program be revived?

New York State is giving away billions to illegal aliens, in a Band-Aid approach currently; maybe it should use those funds to help not only the aliens involved, but the entire population of the state. Maybe these funds should only be used to support the departure of the aliens to their homelands, thus lowering the low-income population of the entire state and opening up some 100,000 or so jobs for its legal citizens.

With a lump-sum benefit of $15,600 the state could buy one-way air tickets (for a few hundred dollars for most of the recipients, who were from Mexico or Central America) and have plenty left over to restore the migrants involved to legal and prosperous status in their homelands. Think what a lump sum of $15,000 or so could do for an alien from, say, El Salvador, where the annual per capita income is $4,134.

The one-time benefit in New York equals almost four years of per capita income in that nation, and probably exceeds the life savings of most of the residents. It could be used to set up a lifetime of economic security for the alien involved — opening a small shop, expanding a farm, buying a good-sized flock of poultry, or setting up a hog-raising business — or a taxi service.

Further, the indirect effects of such a transfer of funds would help the economies of rural El Salvador and help prevent illegal migration by others from that nation.

On the other hand, such a reform would mean that the policy-makers would have to admit that all international migration is not always wonderful for the U.S. or the state of New York, and to deny some major portion of the billions to the slumlords of New York City. In short, it will be difficult to persuade the New York legislature to do anything as sensible as aiding the return to their homelands of some of the state’s illegal aliens.

A Bit of Ridiculous Trivia. Barely mentioned in the report is the problem of fraud in applications for these $15,600 checks. More than 60 percent of the denials were based on suspicion of fraud. What is not spelled out is the implied and previously outlandish notion of some citizens of New York pretending to be illegal aliens in order to collect the loot!