GLOBAL ECONOMY

More than half of U.S. immigrants are on welfare, report says, but critics refute it

UNION CITY, NJ - MARCH 28:  A Hispanic woman walks past Goya products at a local grocery store that sells Spanish, Mexican and Hispanic specialties on March 28, 2011 in Union City, New Jersey. Union City New Jersey, one of the state’s largest cities, has a population of Hispanic or Latino origin of over 80%. According to the new 2010 Census Bureau statistics reported last Thursday, the Hispanic population in the United States has grown by 43% in the last decade, surpassing 50 million and accounting for about 1 out of 6 Americans.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

UNION CITY, NJ - MARCH 28: A Hispanic woman walks past Goya products at a local grocery store that sells Spanish, Mexican and Hispanic specialties on March 28, 2011 in Union City, New Jersey. Union City New Jersey, one of the state’s largest cities, has a population of Hispanic or Latino origin of over 80%. According to the new 2010 Census Bureau statistics reported last Thursday, the Hispanic population in the United States has grown by 43% in the last decade, surpassing 50 million and accounting for about 1 out of 6 Americans. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  (2011 Getty Images)

More than half of the immigrants living in the United States receive some kind of government welfare, an amount much higher than the nation’s native-born population, a study from a conservative immigration group found.

The report from the Center for Immigration Studies found that 51 percent of all immigrant-led households in the U.S. receive some sort of federal aid – such as Medicaid, food stamps or housing assistance – compared to just 30 percent of those households led by people born in the U.S. The number of immigrant-led households on government welfare surged to 76 percent when including homes with children, which also jumped in native-born households to 52 percent.

"This should not be understood as some kind of defect or moral failing on the part of immigrants," said Steven Camarota, director of research at the center and author of the report, to USA Today. "Rather, what it represents is a system that allows a lot of less-educated immigrants to settle in the country, who then earn modest wages and are eligible for a very generous welfare system."

The findings by CIS are sure to spark even more debate over the immigration issue, which has been front and center in this season’s presidential race as candidates continue to call for sweeping changes – from a pathway to citizenship on one hand to mass deportations on the other – to the beleaguered system.  

While CIS said that its report was supported by the independent demographic consulting firm Decision Demographics, some observers have called the findings into question and said it "vastly over exaggerates immigrant welfare use compared to natives."

"[T]he immigrant-headed household variable CIS uses is ambiguous, poorly defined, and less used in a lot of modern research for those reasons," wrote Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. "Immigrant welfare usage could be higher but if the value of their benefits is lower, then the picture changes."

Nowrasteh cites a 2013 Cato report that found that the cash value of immigrant-received welfare benefits is far lower than it is for similarly poor natives, with native-born Americans on Medicaid consuming $3,845 of benefits in 2010 compared to just $2,904 for immigrants as one example.

"If you are really concerned about immigrant welfare use, you should be in favor of reforming welfare, eliminating it, or building a wall around the welfare state," he added.

Another critic of the CIS study was executive director of the National Immigration Forum Ali Noorani, who said that immigrant families make drastic gains in their economic well-being in the course of just one generation. Pew Research data suggests that second-generation Americans have higher incomes, are more likely to graduate college and be homeowners — characteristics that resemble those of the overall U.S. adult population.

"Immigrants are willing to strive for the American dream despite the challenges they face," Noorani told Fox News Latino in an email. "That spirit benefits all of us in the long run. Our economy will benefit from effective policies that help immigrants gain skills and reach their full potential."

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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