Pro-immigration Cato Institute proposes banning immigrants from welfare

Sarah Hurtubise | Reporter

A new study from the Cato Institute has proposed denying welfare to noncitizens in order to help pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The report, “Building a Wall around the Welfare State, Instead of the Country,” found that non-citizens use $29 billion in welfare from five means-tested welfare programs annually, though author Alex Nowrasteh, a Cato Institute immigration policy analyst, held that immigration is beneficial to federal coffers in the long run.

Although $29 billion may seem like a drop in the well compared to the in total welfare spending, the report suggested that prohibiting non-citizen access to welfare would have a “relatively small yet positive fiscal effect.”

The dollar amount may be comparatively small, but Nowrasteh held that any use or abuse by non-citizens must be addressed — not only to protect taxpayers, but to benefit comprehensive immigration reform.

Nowrasteh called the proposal “the sugar that helps [immigration reform] go down.” Taking welfare abuses out of the conversation about immigration would help lawmakers “help their constituents sleep at night,” the analyst told reporters on Wednesday.

Cato has long held that the economic effects of immigration would be hugely beneficial to the U.S. Nowrasteh’s efforts were aimed at “convincing the honest observers of the debate who are trying to come to a decision about the benefits of immigration reform.”

Nowrasteh contended that under the current climate, limiting benefits may allow Congress to pass immigration reform, which would be “a tremendously beneficial shift in policy.”

Cato hopes to convince leaders to adopt a version of the proposal in order to “improve the public’s assessment of immigration reform overall.” Nowrasteh pointed to studies that overwhelming majorities of both parties see immigrant use of welfare benefits as a significant problem, and looked for a way to ease the concerns, though he confirmed that in the past Cato has also tried to fix the “common misconception” that immigrants are a large burden on taxpayer services.

The report found that “poor non-citizens are about 23 percent less likely to be enrolled in Medicaid, 11 percent less likely to be receiving SNAP benefits, and about 7 percent less likely to receive all forms of cash assistance” through several welfare programs than poor native-born citizens.

Nowrasteh stressed that immigration reform and an influx of new workers would benefit the nation’s economy and had hope that his proposal might help lawmakers build a broader coalition in favor of immigration reform.

A controversial Heritage Foundation study released earlier this year estimated that comprehensive immigration reform would cost taxpayers more than $6 trillion over the long term.

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