Elections

Retiree immigration adds billions to deficits

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Roughly one-in-eight new immigrants to America are 55 or older, ensuring there’s little financial payback for the $300,000 or more in taxpayer support given on average to each older immigrant during the last few decades of their lives.

This aspect of immigration policy was highlighted April 13 on President Barack Obama’s campaign website, when an Ohio organizer posted a short item titled “A first time voter: Pedro’s remarkable story.”

“Pedro C.,” now 68 years old, “moved to the United States from Peru 6 years ago,” said the post by Riley Wells, a field organizer in Franklin County.

Because Pedro spoke little English, said Wells, “it was difficult for us to understand each other… [but] Pedro pointed to a mural of President Obama on our office wall and gave a thumbs up.”

“That was all I needed to see… He has already registered and is ready to cast his vote for Barack Obama,” said Wells.

Immigrants can get citizenship, and the right to vote, five years after arriving.

Immigration is a hot-button issue in the election, and Democrats are looking to spur turnout by Latinos. “I’m absolutely obsessed with Latino voters,” Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign director, told Rolling Stone.

In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of Latino voters, which helped him win several states. His campaign is trying to repeat that success this November, partly by accusing Republicans of being “extreme” on immigration.

Much of the Democratic criticism has been focused on Arizona’s SB-1070 law, which allows state police to question detained people about their residency status. But an April poll of 2,577 registered voters shows that the 2010 Arizona law is very popular.

It is supported by 68 percent of all respondents, 72 percent of independents, and 47 percent of Hispanics, but only 46 percent of Democrats, said the Quinnipiac University poll, which was released April 20.

In a Supreme Court hearing Wednesday, a majority of the eight justices indicated they did not think the law clashes with the Constitution.

In 2011, 5 percent of new Green Cards went to 53,126 people aged 65 or older, and another 7.3 percent of cards went to 77,198 people aged 55 or older, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.

Many of those older immigrants were admitted under family unification rules that allow new citizens to bring their relatives into the United States.

In contrast, only 6.3 percent of 2011 green cards went to 66,831 immigrants carrying advanced university degrees.

Older immigrants are near the end of their working lives, and quickly become eligible for welfare programs.

In 2011, only 47 percent of old immigrants — those aged 60 to 64 who had arrived in the last five years — were working, said Steve Camarota, research direct at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Among the many post-2005 immigrants older than 65 in 2011, “31 percent were on Medicaid, 14 percent received food stamps, and 8 percent received cash welfare payments,” he said.