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“Immigrants Don’t Drain Welfare; They Fund It”: Immigrants Have Long Given More To The Welfare System Than They Take From It

Republican presidential candidates who want to deport undocumented immigrants en masse, end birthright citizenship, and build a wall along the Mexican border just got some new ammunition. A report released Wednesday by the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that advocates for reducing immigration to the United States, has concluded that 51 percent of households headed by immigrants—legal or undocumented—receive some kind of welfare. “They are creating a significant burden on public coffers,” writes Steven Camarota, the study’s author and the director of research for CIS. “By using welfare programs immigrants may strain public resources, harming taxpayers and making it more difficult to assist the low-income population already in the country.”

While that sentiment is likely to resonate with conservatives, the facts prove otherwise: Native-born Americans aren’t footing the bill for immigrants so much as immigrants are contributing to a welfare system that many of them can’t take advantage of.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 cut back on welfare extended to immigrants. It categorized green card holders and refugees granted asylum as “qualified,” and all other immigrants—including undocumented workers and many people lawfully here in the United States—as “not qualified” and therefore ineligible for welfare. But the law stipulated that even qualified immigrants had to spend five years in the United States before they could apply for benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, or cash assistance for families with children. Since that major welfare reform, some states have responded by providing for immigrants with programs that offer health care to the children of immigrants or pregnant mothers, and a few states—like California and New York—offer nutritional or cash assistance. But those efforts are mostly limited to qualified residents, while all other immigrants are still almost universally banned from receiving welfare.

The CIS study exaggerates the number of immigrants on welfare by using households as the unit of analysis; as long as the head of household is an immigrant, they consider it an immigrant household, and Camarota counts a household “as using welfare if any one of its members used welfare during 2012.” This means that a household with an American spouse who therefore qualified for welfare could be counted as “using welfare.” The same would go for a child born in the United States to immigrant parents. If he or she received subsidized lunch at school, the whole household would be categorized as “using welfare.” As the Cato Institute notes in its critique of the study, that measure is “ambiguous, poorly defined, and less used in modern research for those reasons.” Relying on such mutable methodology let Camarota exaggerate the number of immigrants on welfare to back up the claim that Americans are footing the bill for immigrants.

Groups like The American Immigration Council have long argued that, contra conservative depictions of “moocher,” immigrants have long given more to the welfare system than they take from it. “In one estimate, immigrants earn about $240 billion a year, pay about $90 billion a year in taxes, and use about $5 billion in public benefits,” a 2010 report by the Council found. “In another cut of the data, immigrant tax payments total $20 to $30 billion more than the amount of government services they use.” And a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2013 found that “more than half of undocumented immigrants have federal and state income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes automatically deducted from their paychecks.” Those immigrants are essentially helping to underwrite the welfare system, providing an enormous subsidy to it every year without being able to reap any of the benefits.

Camarota rejects that conclusion.

“We have an immigration system that lets in vast numbers of unskilled laborers. We tolerate illegal immigration,” he said in an interview. “Pretty much everyone concludes that it’s going to be a net drain.” He wants to institute a “selective” immigration system, one that cuts back on the number of immigrants and places an emphasis on allowing only educated, not unskilled, workers into the country.

Many economists would advise against such a plan. From construction sites in Virginia to farms along the California coastline, immigrants provide essential labor in an evolving economy. The Chamber of Commerce report found they are more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a new business each month. In fact, immigrants started 28 percent of all new businesses in the United States in 2011. Immigrants pay billions in taxes to the government every year; in Texas alone, they generate $1.6 billion annually in taxes. To deport millions en masse, sending them back to their home countries—to say nothing of Donald Trump’s proposal to uproot American citizens born here—would be economically disastrous.

 

By: Laura Reston, The New Republic, September 3, 2015

September 4, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Immigrant Laborers, Immigration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Representation Fails, Demagogues Thrive”: How America’s Political And Economic Elite Gave Birth To The Trump Campaign

“Trump talks about Mexicans the way anti-Semites talk about Jews.”

There’s a lot of truth in that Christopher Hayes tweet from the night of the first Republican debate. Ominous (and unsubstantiated) talk of rapists and murders streaming over the southern border, demonization of “anchor babies,” calls to end birthright citizenship — Donald Trump’s surging campaign for president has brought xenophobic fears and hostility into the political mainstream in a big way. No one should be surprised that just a couple of clicks to Trump’s right, Iowa radio personality Jan Mickelson has begun to muse with his listeners about whether the U.S. should enslave undocumented immigrants who fail to leave the country.

But political commentators would be wise to avoid sliding too quickly into denunciations of Trump’s supporters and his campaign for falling prey to fascism. Yes, their rhetoric is often illiberal and sometimes blatantly racist. But that doesn’t mean their concerns deserve to be dismissed entirely. Trump’s supporters have reasons for their views, and some of those reasons are worth taking seriously.

Anti-immigrant sentiment has been on the rise (in intensity if not always in sheer numbers) throughout the Western world in recent years. The severe economic downturn that began in 2008 and the painfully slow recovery that followed has no doubt helped to fuel it. But so has a visceral frustration at what many believe to be a failure of representative institutions to respond to popular discontent about the changing ethnic and economic character of Western nation states over the past several decades.

These institutions have been sluggish to respond to this discontent because two (sometimes overlapping) factions of our political and economic elite strongly support high levels of immigration — or at least oppose doing very much to stop it.

One of the factions — the business class and its neoliberal champions in government, think tanks, and NGOs — believes in a free-flowing international labor market that treats borders as superfluous.

The other faction — liberal lawyers, activists, intellectuals, journalists, academics, members of the clergy, and (once again) NGO staffers — has a deep-seated moral suspicion of nations and political boundaries in general. Why should an American count for more than a Mexican who crosses the border into the United States? Shouldn’t a refugee fleeing violence in North Africa enjoy full political rights upon setting foot in the European Union? Don’t all human beings deserve to be treated equally under the law? Isn’t opposition to such equality an example of bald-faced racism?

Both of these factions make deeply anti-political assumptions, denying the legitimacy of particularistic affiliations and dismissing the intuition that citizenship in a particular political community is a distinction that should not be open to all comers. The first faction denies these fundamentally political distinctions in the name of economic universalism; the second denies them in the name of moral universalism.

Universalism might be the gold standard of truth in economics, moral philosophy, and in every field of inquiry that aims to model itself on the natural sciences. But politics is always about how these particular people choose to govern themselves. Which means that politics can never be conducted entirely in universalistic terms.

It would be one thing if we had reason to believe that the human race was evolving in the direction of a universal, homogenous state in which there would be no one “outside,” and therefore also no one “inside,” a single political community of worldwide extent. The trouble is that there is little evidence that politically based solidarity is withering away. On the contrary, the more that economic and moral universalists get their way in the policy arena, the more they inspire a radically particularistic (nationalistic, often race-based) backlash.

That describes exactly what’s been happening in the United States (and Europe) in recent years. Not only has the federal government been half-hearted at policing the nation’s southern border, but millions of individuals and business owners have flouted the nation’s immigration laws by hiring undocumented workers, most of them below minimum wage. (I wonder: Will the dramatic increases in the minimum wage being enacted and contemplated around the country alleviate or exacerbate this problem?)

The combination of a porous border and abundant jobs is what keeps attracting immigrants to risk crossing into the United States. Then once they’re here, the moralists deny the legitimacy of finding and deporting them. That creates something close to an open-border policy.

A majority of American citizens may support a generally liberal immigration policy — I certainly do — but there’s no evidence they think the border should be effectively abolished. Those for whom this is an important issue are not wrong to see our drift in that direction as, in part, a failure of democratic representation.

And when representation fails, demagogues thrive, promising to serve as something more than a mere representative — something more like a living embodiment of the people’s will.

Enter Donald Trump.

The magnate from Manhattan is still a long-shot to land the Republican nomination, let alone to win the general election against a halfway competent Democrat. But the passions he’s drawn on and stirred up are unlikely to disappear. And that’s where the dysfunction of our political system rightly inspires serious concern.

Everybody in Washington understands perfectly well what the solution will have to be — some combination of much more stringent border controls with a path to citizenship for those already here. This is precisely the kind of deal that Congress (led by GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio) worked hard, and failed, to pass after the 2012 election. It went down in large part because those who care about the issue no longer trust the federal government to impose the crucially important first half of the deal (enforcement of the border). They fear, and not without reason, that the path to citizenship will be enacted with enthusiasm while the border controls will be half-hearted — a combination that would likely inspire even more people to come to the U.S. illegally.

That leaves us stuck: knowing what we need to do but unable to get it done, with some of us tempted to treat a billionaire snake oil salesman as the nation’s savior.

It’s unclear how to go about righting our course. But it certainly couldn’t hurt for the moral universalists among us to acknowledge that their contempt for particularistic political attachments is helping to provoke the very xenophobic passions they rightly decry.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, August 25, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Immigrant Laborers, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Ferocious Corporate Overlord”: No Surprise; Trump Is A Union Buster At His Own Hotel

Their boss is famous for firing people with merciless gusto. So you can imagine it took just as much chutzpah for the workers at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas to rally today and demand the right to unionize and to gain respect on the job.

While the Donald seeks election to a new post, roughly 500 workers at the hotel are focusing on a very different vote: They’ve been pushing to form a union for months, and are trying to snatch a bit of Trump’s campaign spotlight this summer to call on him “Make America Great Again” right on his home turf. As a recent ad for the unionization campaign proclaims: “We think that working for Mr. Trump in Las Vegas is a chance to make our lives better…but only if he pays us the same wages and benefits as everyone else working on the Strip.”

Of course, what do they expect from the man who’s built a brand for himself as a ferocious corporate overlord? His attitude on the campaign trail is as ruthless as his management style, laced with racial invective and almost self-caricaturing jingoism. (Not to mention hypocrisy—just ask the many low-wage immigrant laborers he has exploited over the years). But amid the buffoonery, the local hospitality union, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, is pressing serious charges of labor violations and denouncing his operations as a bastion of union busting in an otherwise union town.

In fact, the nearby Las Vegas strip and downtown area have a roughly 95 percent union density. Local 226, a Nevada affiliate of UNITE HERE, recently sealed several multi-year contracts covering tens of thousands of local food-service workers, housekeepers, and other hospitality staff, featuring wages and benefits topping $20 an hour, full health and retirement benefits, and workplace-grievance procedures. Not surprisingly, Trump’s staff is heavily comprised of immigrants whose terms of work lag behind union hospitality workers in benefits, wages, and job security.

About 86 percent of workers in the planned bargaining unit have signed “Union Yes” cards. UNITE HERE is seeking neutrality from the employer and a straight card-check majority vote for unionization, rather than plodding through the NLRB ballot process. Nonetheless, according to the union, the management has run a stealth campaign to persuade hotel staff that organizing is not in their best interest.

According to NLRB charges filed by the union, five hotel workers were “unfairly suspended for exercising their legal right to wear a union button and organize their coworkers” last year (they were eventually reinstated with back pay, along with an agreement to post workers rights publicly and not interfere with future organizing). Last June, the union filed new charges alleging the management “violated the federally protected rights of workers to participate in union activities” including “incidents of alleged physical assault, verbal abuse, intimidation, and threats by management.” The workers charged the managers with blocking organizers from distributing pro-union literature in the workers’ dining room, while stealthily allowing anti-union activists to campaign during work hours.

Sebastian Corcordel, who came to the United States from Romania over a decade ago and has been working as a server at Trump International since it opened in 2008, hopes a union can provide the job security he feels his workplace has long lacked, along with long-overdue raises. The resistance facing the campaign, in his view, underscores how badly the staff needs basic protections and grievance procedures at work.

“I see [this] with myself, and with my coworkers. They try to [apply] pressure: Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t go with the union,” he says of the management, pointing to a flurry of anti-union propaganda flyers and posters. Some coworkers are wary of the organizing drive, he concedes: “Some of them are very very afraid to be a part of the union…[but] It’s their right, and nobody can retaliate against them.” And when others criticize his support for the campaign, the proud naturalized citizen replies, “This is my right. Like the right to vote.”

The Trump workers build on a legacy of social movements on the Strip. In the 1960s, Las Vegas was a battlefield for civil-rights struggles in the push to desegregate casinos. In later years racial conflicts would erupt and intersect periodically with labor strife, as militant black working-class communities formed the backbone of the gambling industry. Under the leadership of former hotel worker turned union chief Hattie Canty, UNITE HERE’s multiethnic coalition staged massive strikes and won contracts that set a remarkably high bar for labor rights in the post-industrial Sunbelt economy. Christopher Johnson on BlackPast.org notes: “By 1996, room maids could earn approximately $9.25 an hour; more than double the average wage for hotel maids in other cities. For Hattie Canty, as with most unionized workers, these wages had enabled a middle class lifestyle.”

But Vegas’s good fortunes are fleeting, The recession hit the low-wage workforce hard, and unemployment spiked among Nevada’s black and Latino populations.

As a core immigrant job sector, the hospitality industry has actually managed to rebound somewhat, compared to another major industry for low-wage immigrants, construction, making the Vegas hotels that much more vital to the Latino community’s long-term economic recovery. Still, both industries are rife with occupational hazards, abuse and discrimination. Embattled unions like Local 226 are holding the line in Vegas against the brand of neoliberal hegemony Trump champions.

Trump’s election platform promises the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants and sealing the borders, supposedly to protect American workers. But Corcordel scoffs at the notion of immigrant workers’ somehow taking more than they give to the economy—particularly the chunk of it controlled by Trump himself:

The entire hotel is immigrants.… So I don’t know why he’s against immigrants, because we do our job very fairly and we help him too to grow [the business].… how you gonna have the hotel without workers to work?

While Trump trumpets his plan to make the country “great again” and “improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans,” the new Americans who make his businesses run each day hope their boss comes around to letting them finally improve their own jobs, wages, and security—by forming their own more perfect union.

 

By: Michelle Chen, The Nation, August 21, 2015

 

August 24, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Immigrant Laborers, Unions | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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