Efforts to demonize immigrants from the Global South have been front and center for most conservative voters for decades. Their xenophobia uses the same debunked information that began more than a century ago. In addition to false claims of migrants creating lower wages and being criminals, another favorite of the racist and xenophobic right is that migrants use or abuse welfare in the U.S.
Despite most immigrants in the U.S. – whether through asylum programs or even if they have a green card making them legal residents – not being able to receive Medicaid, food stamps, or any other federal support until they reach a five-year waiting period, the notion of immigrants “abusing” the welfare system persists. Immigrants can possibly qualify for emergency Medicaid in cases of medical emergencies, but most immigrants are afraid of retaliation if they apply for it.
Their misinformation tactics are meant to distract from the fact that immigrants are huge contributors to our social programs. They pay into programs like Medicaid and Social Security but are often unqualified to receive them because of age and ineligibility. The likelihood of many retiring in other countries also helps bolster the positive financial outcome.
While some states do offer social programs for undocumented immigrants, they too operate at a net positive both financially for the state and economically for local communities. In 2021, immigrants contributed more than $31 billion, according to Immigration Impact. As many as 75% of unauthorized immigrants pay federal taxes through an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), according to the CATO Institute.
So where did this misinformation come from?
As is typical for racists and xenophobes, it was based on facts taken out of context. Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA started promoting this nonsense in 2019 based on the idea that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was paying Afghan refugees $2,125 a month. The truth is the ORR pays a one-time grant benefit in that amount to resettlement agencies for each refugee to house and provide them basic necessities. This is specifically for refugees and not all migrants.
It is states and non-governmental agencies (NGOs) – with guidance from the federal government – that offer other assistance in the form of Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance. Again, for refugees.
Some immigrants, albeit few, do get priority assistance in the form of work visas. Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans, for example, are often covered by Temporary Protected Status (TPS) which typically lasts about 18 months. Those immigrants are designated due to the situation in their home countries – whether it be war or oppressive regimes in power.
While immigration may seem complex because the system isn’t really a system but a patchwork of nonsensical policies, the truth about immigration is much simpler when weighing all the facts. Most of the rhetoric spread by conservatives comes from a place of ignorance and usually starts with bigoted influencers looking for clicks so they can make a buck.
After all, hate is big business.
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