Fact Check: Illegal Immigrants Do NOT Always Get More Welfare Than American Families

Fact Check

  • by: Ryan Cooper
Fact Check: Illegal Immigrants Do NOT Always Get More Welfare Than American Families

Does a study confirm that illegal immigrants collect more welfare benefits than American families? No, that's not always true: A 2016 study that is still being shared online has already been shown to exaggerate the cost of immigrant welfare use. Some of the tables included deep within the story actually paint a completely different picture and offer a more nuanced view.

The claims originated from an article (archived here) published by Newsmax on May 9, 2016, under the title "Illegal Immigrants Get More Welfare Than American Families." It opened:

The households of illegal immigrants receive an average of about $1,000 more annually in federal welfare benefits than do the households of non-immigrant recipients, a new analysis finds.

According to the immigration control advocacy group, Center for Immigration Studies, which breaks down federal cost data from 2012, the welfare payout to likely illegal immigrant households averages $5,692 yearly, compared with the average $4,431 welfare payout to non-immigrant households collecting the benefit.

The CIS analysis study points out illegal immigrants are barred from directly receiving welfare, but may obtain it through their U.S.-born children.

Users on social media saw this:

The headline on the Newsmax article, which claimed that illegal immigrants get more welfare benefits than U.S.-born citizens, is misleading. The article cited a May 9, 2016, study by the Center for Immigration Studies, which has a tagline, "Low-immigration, Pro-immigrant."

However, the study looked at benefits that both illegal and legal immigrants receive, but the Newsmax article mentioned only illegaI ones. Also, children who were born in the United States but whose parents are immigrants are eligible to receive welfare benefits. The children are automatically considered American citizens. The article and study suggested that immigrants receive the benefits through their U.S.-born children, though it is the children, not the parents, who would receive the aid.

On May 10, 2016, the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank, fact-checked the CIS report. It said the group exaggerated the data in its summaries:

The CIS headline result, that immigrant-headed households consume more welfare than natives, lacks any kind of reasonable statistical controls. To CIS's credit, they do include tables with proper controls buried in their report and its appendix. Those tables with proper controls undermine many of their headline findings.

To elaborate, when various controls - such as worker status, education, and the number of children - are added in the accompanying tables, the findings reveal a very different story.

For example, according to Cato:

Table 6 controls for the number of children in native and immigrant households. Immigrant households with one child, two children, and three or more children all consume fewer welfare benefits that the same sized native households. The only exception is that immigrant households without any children consume more.

In Table 9, the CIS report added other controls that do not support the claim that immigrants receive more welfare benefits than natives. According to the CIS study:

Once enrolled in Medicaid, immigrant households cost less on average than native households, perhaps due to immigrant coverage being more tilted toward children rather than the elderly and disabled. In fact, because of legal restrictions, immigrant households are more likely to be "child-only" welfare recipients.

Cato mentioned another flaw of the report's analysis. It said, "The CIS report should have compared immigrant individuals to native-born individuals." Cato added, "The number of people in an individual does not vary but the number of people in a household can vary tremendously. The greater number of children in the immigrant household, rather than any different level of individual welfare use, is what largely drove the report's results."

The Newsmax story did not acknowledge all of this context - and the changing variables that adjust the findings - when it claimed that illegal immigrants receive more welfare benefits than those who were born in the United States. Indeed, as the CIS' study showed - buried deep within its own report - that is not always true. In some cases, immigrants use fewer welfare dollars compared to natives when worker status, education, and the number of children are factored in.

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalists to rank the reliability of websites, describes newsmax.com as:

A conservative news site that writes about politics, culture, business, technology, and healthcare.

According to NewsGuard, the site can generally be trusted to maintain journalistic standards. Read their full assessment here.

We wrote about newsmax.com before. Here are our most recent articles that mention the site:

We have also compiled several fact checks on stories about welfare benefits. Here are a few:

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  Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is the former Director of Programming at CNN International, where he helped shape the network's daily newscasts broadcast to more than 280 million households around the world. He was based at the network's Los Angeles Bureau. There, he managed the team responsible for a three-hour nightly program, Newsroom LA.

Formerly, he worked at the headquarters in Atlanta, and he spent four years at the London bureau. An award-winning producer, Cooper oversaw the network's Emmy Award-winning coverage of the uprising in Egypt in 2011. He also served as a supervising producer during much of the network's live reporting on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, for which CNN received an Edward R. Murrow Award.

Read more about or contact Ryan Cooper

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