Fact vs. Fiction: Trump’s Administration’s Proposal to Cut Legal Immigration
On August 2, 2017, President Donald Trump publicly endorsed the RAISE Act (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) from the White House’s Roosevelt Room. Trump was right when he said that the legislation would change “the way the United States issues Green Cards to nationals from other countries.” In fact, it would be the biggest change to American immigration laws since the 1960s.
Cosponsored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), the RAISE Act would cut legal immigration by 50% over the next decade or about 500,000 less immigrants from the roughly 1,000,000 admitted annually today. President Trump and the legislation’s senatorial authors argued that the reduction in legal immigration would lessen the burden on taxpayers, boost economic growth, and restore immigration levels to historic norms.
The foundation of the RAISE Act is a misunderstanding of the basic facts of immigration.
Below, ADC separates Fact from Fiction.
FACT: The RAISE Act would cut annual immigration rates to about 60% below historic norms.
Immigration Rates to the U.S. are at Historic Lows. As a share of America’s native-born population, immigration rates today are 28% lower than their historic norms. One million new immigrants a year might sound like a lot, but today our population is far larger and our corollary ability to absorb and assimilate immigrants is far greater. Since 1900, America’s population has quadrupled to over 320 million people. From 1820 to 2017, the percentage of newly arrived immigrants compared to the total population was .45% annually. Today, that figure is .32%. In fact, restoring immigration levels to historic norms would actually necessitate raising immigration by an additional 411,000.
FACT: Immigrants have both lower welfare usage and receive fewer benefits than native-born Americans.
Immigrants Have Lower Usage and Fewer Benefits of Welfare. Speaking at the White House, Sen. Perdue said, “Over 50 percent of our households of legal immigrants today participate in our social welfare system.” The reality is that Immigrants to the U.S., unless they’re refugee or asylum applicants, are prohibited from accessing most welfare services for the first five years.
In advancing his claim, Sen. Perdue may have been relying on the (anti-immigration) Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”), which has popularized the fiction that immigrants use more welfare than native-born Americans.
CIS’ methodology is flawed. CIS counts household rather than individual use of welfare, and the organization oddly considers a household headed by an immigrant father married to an American-born wife with American-born children as still qualifying as an “immigrant household.” Moreover, immigrant households, however defined, average 3.37 people compared to 2.5 in an entirely native-born home. Even if individual adult and children welfare rates were equal for both immigrant and native-born households, CIS’ methodology creates the false impression that the immigrant household averages a higher individual rate when, in fact, individual immigrant benefits are lower than those claimed by native-born Americans.
According to the nonpartisan, libertarian think tank Cato Institute (see link above), native-born adults and children receive more SNAP (food stamps) benefits than immigrants, and their average SNAP benefit is higher than that given to immigrants
Similarly, native-born and naturalized citizens are more likely to receive Medicaid (health insurance for the poor), and their average Medicaid expenditure is significantly higher than that for immigrants.
Native-born Americans receive more cash assistance than naturalized citizens or immigrants, and native-born American and naturalized citizens receive more Supplemental Security Income (SSI) than immigrants. SSI expenditure for native-born and naturalized citizens is higher than that for immigrants. Only in the case of cash assistance does the average immigrant adult receive slightly higher benefits than the average native-born and naturalized adults; the native-born children of native-born adults receive more cash assistance than the native-born children of immigrant adults, who, in turn, receive more benefits than the immigrant children of immigrant adults.
FACT: A Declining Population Leads to a Declining Economy
America’s birth rate has been declining for several years and this year America recorded its lowest ever birth rate. To maintain our current population the birth rate must be at a minimum of 2.1 children per woman, but the U.S. rate for 2015 is 1.84. The only thing that has reversed our population decline has been immigration.
To see what happens to a country with a low birth rate and low immigration, look no further than Japan. The country is projected to shrink from 126 million (2015) to 83 million by the end of the century, a 34% decline. The world’s 3rd largest economy will inevitably decline as the domestic market contracts and fewer young people join the work force. And as the population grows older, the tax burden to care for the elderly (social security and health care) will fall harder and harder on a dwindling pool of young workers. (Rest assured that the political class will give dedicated older voters all the benefits they demand; as they will outnumber young voters.)
Without immigrants injecting fresh blood into a low birth nation, America’s future would soon resemble Japan’s: Shrinking population, lower economic growth, and a higher tax burden.
The RAISE Act is not just bad economics; it is contrary to our heritage, tradition, and values. Restricting immigration has never made us better off. We are at our best when we affirm our history of welcoming immigrants.