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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Immigrants, Work, and Welfare


One of the common laments of the anti-immigration crowd is that illegal immigrants are coming to the United States just to get on welfare.

I suppose the idea is that illegal immigrants are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to an illegal guide to take them on a dangerous trek across the desert or have them transported in the back of a tractor-trailer is so that they can be taken immediately to a local welfare office to begin collecting a welfare check.

But if that is true, then why is it that you never hear of illegal immigrants getting busted at the welfare office? How come they’re always getting busted working in private businesses?

Is it possible — just possible — that Americans, who do have a deep and abiding love for welfare, project their love-of-welfare feelings on illegal immigrants, who in reality seem to have a deep and abiding love for a strong work ethic instead?

How is it that illegal immigrants are able to find their way into the U.S. job market, especially when there are lots of Americans reporting to the welfare office everyday? If there are no jobs, which the Americans in the welfare line will tell you is the case, how is it that illegal immigrants are able to find jobs that supposedly don’t exist?

What all too many Americans fail to realize is that immigrants, especially the illegal ones, contribute mightily to economic prosperity. Not only do they bring a dynamism that is lacking in many Americans, they also produce increased levels of prosperity with their consumption patterns. They’re buying used cars, housing, clothing, and the like, which increases better-paying job opportunities for Americans in those types of sectors.

There is also the division of labor that immigrants bring, which contributes to people’s higher standard of living. Suppose, for example, an 80-year-old man spends 3 days blowing leaves off his big back yard every fall. One fall day, two illegal immigrants show up at his door and offer to blow the leaves away for $20 total. The man might well find it in his own self-interest to agree to the deal. If so, his standard of living has increased.

There are those who argue that illegal immigrants are burdensome to government-owned schools and government-owned hospitals. As my associate Sheldon Richman has suggested, notice that it’s only the public (i.e., government) sector that considers too many customers to be a burden. When was the last time you heard Wal-Mart, Home Depot, or McDonalds complaining that too many customers are a burden? If schools and hospitals were turned over to the same private-property, free-market forces under which other businesses operate, wouldn’t they have the same positive attitude toward customers that other private businesses have?

There’s also an amusing aspect to the lament that illegal immigrants are burdening the public schools. The idea is that Americans don’t want to be paying taxes to fund the schooling of illegal immigrants.

One reason this is amusing is that Americans have rigged the system with compulsory-attendance laws. Since most immigrant families are unable to homeschool and since they cannot afford private schools, the compulsory-attendance laws leave them no choice but to send their children into the system. Why not simply repeal compulsory-attendance laws (or, better yet, separate school and state entirely), which would relieve the illegal immigrant from burdening everyone by putting his children into government schools?

Another reason it’s amusing is that the Americans who issue the lament are themselves guilty of the very thing they’re complaining about with respect to immigrants. For example, I personally don’t have children. Yet, people in my county have no reservations about using the tax system to plunder and loot me to subsidize the schooling of their children. Then after looting me and other similarly situated in such a fashion, they exclaim, “Please stop the illegals from looting me because I don’t want to pay for the schooling of their children.”

The third reason that it’s amusing is that immigrants do pay taxes, including property, sales, and income taxes.

Their employers withhold money from their paychecks for both income taxes and Social Security taxes. I would assume that many illegal immigrants file for income-tax refunds but surely there are some that are too scared to do so, which means a free “gift” from the illegal immigrant to the U.S. Treasury.

On Social Security, the illegal immigrant clearly receives the short end of the stick. As defenders of Social Security often put it, the immigrants are “paying in to the system.” Yet, many of them return to their home countries, never to make a claim on Social Security. Thus, there is a “free” gift to current U.S. Social Security recipients, whose money comes from current Social Security payers.

In fact, according to an editorial in today’s New York Times, “We’re not talking chump change. According to the report, the taxes paid by other-than-legal immigrants will close 15 percent of the system’s projected long-term deficit. That’s equivalent to raising the payroll tax by 0.3 percentage points, starting today.”

This, it’s ironic that some of the most ardent anti-immigrant types are elderly people on Social Security. You would think they would say to themselves, “Thank goodness for the illegal immigrants or otherwise my children and grandchildren would have to be paying even higher Social Security taxes to fund my retirement.”

Isn’t it ironic, then, that while some Americans complain that immigrants are coming to America just to get on welfare, the reality is that not only are they coming to America to work, their efforts not only contribute to America’s economic prosperity but also to its socialistic welfare state?

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.