Study backs Trump’s claim that illegals are ‘freeloaders’

In April, a study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that about 8.1 of the 11.8 million employed illegal immigrants in the U.S. paid an excess of $11.8 billion in state and municipal taxes in 2012. For advocates of immigration reform, this seemed to disprove Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments that illegal immigrants are “freeloaders.”

However, a second report from the Center for Immigration Studies seems to back up Trump’s claims:

The report by the conservative Center for Immigration Studies found that households headed by immigrants — both legal and illegal — use welfare programs at a rate significantly higher than households headed by native-born Americans.

Fifty-one percent of households headed by immigrants reported using at least one welfare program during 2012, based on the latest available data provided by the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation. That compares with just 30 percent of so-called native households that avail themselves of welfare programs, according to the report.

While dependence on Medicaid, food stamps and other welfare programs has risen in recent years as many Americans struggled through a major recession and stubbornly high unemployment, households headed by immigrants made far greater use of these federal benefits than their non-immigrant counterparts, the study finds.

For instance: Households headed by immigrants made greater use of food programs than “native households,” 40 percent to 22 percent, and Medicaid by 42 percent to 23 percent. Immigrant households also used government cash programs at a higher rate than native households, 12 percent versus 10 percent. Both types of households used government housing programs at a similar rate.

However, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has contested the findings of the CIS report:

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst for Cato, wrote that CIS had overstated immigrant welfare use by omitting “a lot of information that would make for a better comparison between immigrants and natives.” One problem he cites is that the study counts households instead of individuals in gauging the extent of the reliance on welfare. “Immigrant-headed household variables CIS uses are ambiguous, poorly defined and less used in modern research,” according to Nowrasteh.

What’s more, Nowrasteh complains, the CIS study fails to correct for income. “Since means-tested welfare programs are designed for those with lower incomes, it makes sense to only compare use rates among those with lower incomes,” he said. “It is not enlightening to statistically compare the welfare use rates of rich immigrants and Americans like Elon Musk or Bill Gates to poorer immigrants and Americans as the CIS report does.”

“Simply put,” Nowrasteh concludes, “the CIS study does not compare apples to apples but rather apples to elephants.”

In this argument, only one thing is for certain: the answer is almost always biased one way or the other.