Mises Wire

Welfare for Migrants Ensures the Border Crisis Will Continue

Earlier this month, The New York Post reported that the mayor of New York is giving away pre-paid cash cards—each carrying “up to $10,000“— to foreign nationals in New York. Most of these foreign nationals—i.e., “illegal immigrants”—have arrived in New York with no invitation, no employment prospects, and no plan for housing. But most of them plan on staying. And why shouldn’t they? Upon arrival, thousands of them immediately went on the public dole in some way or another, relying on taxpayer-funded shelters, housing programs, and a variety of sources for “free” food. Those immigrants who have not found taxpayer funded housing in hotels—there are presently at least 66,000 of them—simply live on the taxpayer-funded streets as vagrants. 

The latest idea from the city’s central planners is to pay out millions more via pre-paid debit cards—pre-paid, of course, by millions of people who actually work for a living. The city has already planned to spend at least $2.5 billion on the migrants in this way. An additional $53 million will go to grease the palms of bankers who will provide the cards. 

This is just one story among many we’ve seen in recent years on how state, local, and federal policymakers have shoveled ever larger amounts of taxpayer funds to both legal and illegal immigrants. After all, there are at least 23 million foreign nationals residing in the United States—both legally and illegally—and both are subsidized by taxpayers to the tune of at least $150 billion per year. An additional $140 billion goes to immigrants who have been naturalized. 

Clearly, governments across the United States are doing a lot to subsidize new immigration. It is well known by now that American cities and states—not to mention the federal government—offer “free” cash, housing, food, and more. Moreover, it is known that once the migrants get here, they can even hope for fast-tracked legal residency by claiming to be refugees. Then, once legal residency is established, it’s only a five year wait until the citizenship process can begin. At that point, one can apply for the full bevy of public benefits offered to citizens: endless access to Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers, and more. And, of course, these new citizens also get to vote.  

Yet, most of the focus in the debate over immigration has been on the government doing too little to physically stop immigration. While Washington holds out a huge carrot to foreign nationals by handing out billions in social benefits, anti-immigration activists spend most of their time focusing on the “stick” of border control and deportation.  Occasionally, a politician might offer a half-hearted claim that “the border is not open.” The migrants, however, know what is really going on. 

Unfortunately, a focus primarily on border control and deportations ignores the true root of the problem. So long as the “carrot” remains an enormous incentive, the “stick” will produce limited results.

The Carrot versus the Stick

Moreover, the anti-immigration lobby’s focus on border control and deportation is exactly how the pro-immigration activists like it, and their scheme is going according to plan. The scheme works like this: entice ever-increasing numbers of migrants to the border with ever-larger promises of social benefits. Then, once the migrants get to the border, portray any and all border control efforts as amounting to “kids in cages” or “whippings“ by border patrol agents.  

The full reality of the border situation is never covered in the media, of course. While the alleged “kids in cages”—or their current PR equivalent—are featured regularly in the officially approved organs of public communication, the exploited workers who pay for all this never seem to get a mention.  If the legacy media were to give a moment’s thought to who is paying for the endless “caravans” of future tax-eaters to the border, the media narrative would be different. The regime journalists would be running news stories about small business owners who are being forced to cough up ever larger sums in taxes—including, of course, the inflation tax—to pay for another 50,000 or 100,000 foreign nationals in any given month.

If the legacy media cared about context, they’d feature stories about plumbers and waitresses whose children are now in overcrowded classrooms filled by the children of migrants who have contributed nothing to the construction or maintenance of those schools. Meanwhile, of course, the longtime taxpayers are stuck with ever larger property taxes to pay for it all. The media would note how these working people have paid taxes in that jurisdiction for many years, just to be told they’d better pay more. Ordinary working people are handed an ever-growing tax bill by the graduate-schooled elites who, for whatever reason, have become obsessed with subsidizing immigration to the fullest extent they can get away with. 

In other words, the current scheme is working perfectly: draw countless new migrants to the border with taxpayer money, and when any taxpayers object, call them fascists (or worse).

Moreover, so long as the pro-immigration lobby can keep the other side fixated on the “stick” rather than the “carrot,” the anti-immigration side ends up supporting policies the regime wants. For example, consider how the anti-immigration lobby favors police-state powers in the name of controlling immigration. These measures include “real ID,” “E-Verify,” and the execrable 100-mile deep ”border zone” in which any American can be stopped and his “papers” demanded. All this is sold as a way of “preventing illegal immigration.” In practice, the regime is fine with all this since these measures end up greatly expanding federal surveillance and police power. 

Subsidizing Border Crossings

Many anti-immigration activists like to focus on border controls and insist that theirs is the only feasible solution. “Good luck cutting welfare to migrants!” they say. They think they’re being clever, but one could just as easily ask them: “how are those mass deportations going for you? I’m sure they’ll begin any day now.” Or we might ask: “how’s that border wall coming? Congratulations, the state of Texas managed to close a tiny portion of the border near Eagle Pass. Good luck with closing the rest of it.” 

Without addressing the lure of subsidized migration, “border control” will meet with limited success. After all, if it were easy to close the border—which runs 1,900 miles through mostly remote country—the United States would not be awash in illegal drugs imported from abroad. So long as there is a pile of easy cash waiting on the American side of the border, drug dealers and migrants will find a way to get to it. 

Thus, the most sustainable and enforceable policy changes lie in cutting off access to taxpayer funded largesse for the foreign born—both legal and illegal—and in making citizenship more difficult to obtain. Given that legal immigrants collect taxpayer-funded social benefits even more than illegal aliens, there is no reason to draw the line simply at illegal aliens. So long as these benefits are available to any immigrants, the benefits will act as an incentive to migrants who can’t pay their own bills. Moreover, so long as citizenship remains a means of gaining access to welfare benefits, citizenship itself must be harder to obtain. The current requirement that legal residents wait five years to apply for citizenship is hardly a meaningful obstacle. This waiting period for citizenship ought to be closer to twenty years

Ending the migration subsidies has an added benefit in that doing so does not violate property rights or empower the state. Rather, cutting off migrant welfare restricts state power while reducing the fiscal burden on the taxpayers. “Citizenship,” of course, is not a natural right or a property right. It’s an administrative status, which in the modern world mostly exists to grant access to the public purse. 

Anti-Welfare, Not Anti-Immigrant 

It is important to note that none of these changes are “anti-immigrant.” These policies merely oppose the immigrants that consume taxpayer-funded benefits. Indeed, current immigration policy is far too restrictive on the self-sufficient migrants, who are an economic boon. Many companies and entrepreneurs, for example, encounter countless difficulties in hiring desirable immigrant workers because current policies have placed low ceilings on the number of visas issued to these workers. Moreover, many employers turn to immigrant laborers because the native-born population is too busy getting high to pass a drug test and show up for work. Yet, while hard-working business owners are legally barred from hiring the skilled workers they need, unskilled workers pour across the border and receive cash payments—funded by those who actually work. Migrants who don’t need social benefits—of whom there are many—would benefit from policies cutting immigrants off from taxpayer funds. After all, the productive migrants end up paying to subsidize social benefits for others.  Only immigrants on the dole would suffer from being cut off. Until that happens, don’t expect the flood of subsidized migration to ease any time soon. 

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