The Immigrant and Welfare

Cameron.jpg Cameron Ventura, Immigration Activist

In an age with more access to information at the very tips of our fingers (literally) than any other time in the history of humanity – it is baffling how often we still get it wrong. Society has lost the art of fact checking, peer reviews, and perhaps most importantly – correctly inferring meaning from data.

This dilemma isn’t limited to the backwoods high-school dropouts. We see this on every side of the aisle and in every socio-economic breakdown across the country. Once a scientific people, we have drifted into the land of relativity – where perception and sound bites are infinitely more valuable than truth and reality. But I digress.

Yesterday I jumped into my ’05 Ford Ranger and squeaked (yes, squeaked – it’s time for new ball joints) down the road to a local diner to join about 65 other constituents for a town hall with US Congressman Tom Rice. Overall, the event was very encouraging – almost everyone in attendance was vocally supportive of DREAMers and they demanded to prioritize a fix for DACA. Mr. Rice was somewhat receptive and finessed his way through the uncomfortable questions and accusations for a solid hour.

At one point, he found his familiar flow explaining why he isn’t all too excited about the idea of immigrants coming (or staying) in our country. Almost hitting note for note from an interview he did on Tuesday, January 16 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XahRClH9Iw&t=5s)  – he explained that within the first year that legal immigrants are present in the United States, over 50% of them end up on some social safety net. He continued to explain that he isn’t okay with requiring US citizens to pay for those who immigrated here. This point had an added layer of bite as it was in response to an emotional plea from a DACA recipient questioning how his Christian faith could allow him to oppose medical funding for children simply because of their country of birth.

Having now personally heard this twice – I decided that it was time to inquire about this statistic, as emails to the congressman and comments on his Youtube video had yielded no response.

I raised my hand for what would clearly be the last question of the day – and asked, “From where are you getting the data that states that over 50% of legal immigrants are on social welfare within their first year in the country? Based on my research, in 1996 Bill Clinton signed into law the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 that mandated that immigrants were ineligible for any federal social programs for the first five years that they are in the country.” The response: a USA Today article.

After a friendly request that he investigate this further and get back to his constituents if in fact, he found his data to be incorrect (which was met by calls from the crowd that they would follow up at the next event, which was happening the very next morning), I went home and once again, began researching.

I found the article (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/09/01/immigrant-welfare-use-report/71517072/) and was less surprised at my findings. First, this article stated that over 50% of legal immigrant households received some aspect of social welfare at some point within the year that they were gathering data. This is vastly different than the claim that the benefits were accessed within the first year of residence. Second, I found that this article was based on research from the Center for Immigration Studies. This is where things get interesting.

Reading this study (https://cis.org/Report/Welfare-Use-Immigrant-and-Native-Households) you will find that the author is forward and somewhat prideful in stating that the conclusions made differ from most all other recent studies regarding the use of entitlements by immigrants. They base the difference on their use of the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) – while stating that most other think-tanks default to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. But what truly is the difference?

The most glaring is the way in which the data is gathered. The SIPP data isn’t used in this way because doing so would blatantly misrepresent the data. The SIPP data is based on homes that indicated in January 2012 that they were headed by a legal immigrant. Every four months the head of the household would be contacted and asked questions relating to the previous months. This data focused primarily on the data per household – not per individual. This means that if the household is headed by a legal immigrant who married a US citizen, had four kids, then invited the citizen’s brother, his wife, and their four kids to live with them – if any one of them (including the children) accessed any social safety net program, that home was indicated as being an immigrant home. That is correct – twelve people, eleven of whom are US Citizens, the head of household being a legal immigrant – the SIPP data now shows that this is an immigrant home relying on social benefits.

This is the particular reason why this data isn’t used by reputable sources to conclude the use of welfare benefits. The conclusions are widely skewed and don’t lead to logical conclusions. And what happens when we blindly accept such reports and the conclusions they claim? We have policy proposals that aren’t based in fact, public officials basing their understanding of high-value topics on faulty data, and an electorate that is hoodwinked.

So I implore you, when you read an article or hear a speech, ask these questions. Investigate how the data was gathered. Critically think through whether the proposals mentioned aligning with the data. If the content aligns with your typical thinking, have it peer reviewed by an intelligent person who tends to disagree with you as they will poke holes. We must return to the age of scientific reason and logic that rests on peer-review. Facts don’t lie. We must use one another to carve away the bias that distorts reality.

To bring this full circle – Mr. Rice will be provided an opportunity to comment on this situation in his next “Coffee with your Congressman”. He will face the same choice all of us will face – to admit that he accepted bad data and that he misread the facts – or to appeal to some half-truth and skirt away. For the sake of District 7 – I hope for an honorable response.

Grace and peace.


Memphis immigration Project exists to engage issues of Immigration from a biblical perspective.

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