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Getting on Welfare: Why Do Immigrants Come to The United States

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This presentation will focus on the debate topic: most immigrants come to the United States just to get on welfare. With more than 40 million residents born in a different country, the United States has more immigrants than any other country and that number is only growing.

Why do immigrants come to the United States and whether they should have a right to public assistance and welfare here is not a new topic of debate. More recently, the Trump Administration’s public charge rule calls for rejecting potential immigrants who are deemed likely to use public welfare programs, which include: Supplemental Security Income; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); any federal, state, local, or tribal cash benefit programs for income maintenance; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Section 8 Housing Assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher Program or Project-Based Rental Assistance; and Medicaid.

Arguments regarding why immigrants come to the United States center around rates of welfare recipients within immigrant communities and welfare magnets or welfare clustering. Because California has more immigrants than any other state and is considered to be the most welfare-generous, it is also at the center of this debate. Data can be manipulated to support both sides of the argument around immigrants coming to the United States to get on welfare.

Federal and state policies restrict what programs social workers’ clients can receive. Practitioners must understand the applicable federal and state policies to effectively advocate for their clients and provide them with relevant assistance. Furthermore, restricted access to public benefits is likely to increase dependence on private welfare. It is important that social workers serving with private agencies and non-profits understand the challenges that their clients face.

This study used data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) to study the difference in rates of participation in welfare between immigrants and native-born Americans. Borjas used CPS data pertaining to the poverty rate and the rate of participation in public assistance programs. Childhood poverty is a determinant of lower educational achievement, behavioral problems, and lower economic earnings as an adult.

Generally, childhood poverty continues into adulthood and subsequently the potential dependence on public assistance. Participation in public assistance as a child has long-term consequences. Notably, exposure to public assistance as a child can foster a culture of dependency into adulthood. This study found that national-origin groups that had high rates of program participation as children are also the national-origin groups from which young adults have the highest rates of poverty and program participation.

Immigrant children have significantly higher rates of poverty and, subsequently, participate in welfare programs at higher rates than their native-born peers. Nearly half of immigrant children live in households that receive some form of public assistance, while only one-third of their native-born peers live in households that receive assistance.

In general, foreign-born children have the highest rate of poverty, but children born in the United States to immigrant parents have the highest rate of participation in welfare programs. In 2009, 51.5 percent of United States-born children to immigrant parents participated in public welfare, while 38.6 percent of foreign-born children participated in public welfare.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which was enacted in 1996, established more restrictive rules for determining the eligibility of foreign-born people for nearly all types of public assistance, including TANF and Medicaid. Under PRWORA, states were given the option to use their own funding to offer TANF and Medicaid to some immigrants.

The most welfare-generous state or state that has high availability of state-funded safety net programs is California. California is considered, by some, to be a welfare magnet for immigrants. The geographic clustering of welfare recipients in California is much more significant for immigrants beginning in the 1990s than before. The difference in the percentage of foreign-born residents living in the United States and California increased in the 1990s.

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Getting on Welfare: Why Do Immigrants Come to the United States. (2023, February 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from
“Getting on Welfare: Why Do Immigrants Come to the United States.” GradesFixer, 12 Feb. 2023,
Getting on Welfare: Why Do Immigrants Come to the United States. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Mar. 2023].
Getting on Welfare: Why Do Immigrants Come to the United States [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Feb 12 [cited 2023 Mar 25]. Available from:
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