Immigration Welfare Policy Term Paper

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Immigrant Welfare Policy Summary & Critique

Immigration into the United States has historically come in waves, with the current upward trend beginning in 1965 and gaining steam through the 1980s, to the point where nearly one million immigrants a year, on average, have been admitted to the United States throughout the 1990s and the current decade. Many of these newer immigrant gained legal status as U.S. citizens through back or side doors, such as entering the country with a temporary visa and then applying for citizenship, or even seeking citizenship after living as an illegal immigrant for some years. Such side-door entry has had a significant impact not only on the number of immigrants made citizens each year, but also on the ability of these immigrants to adequately provide for themselves and their families without depending on federal assistance.

This has inextricably tied the issue of immigration to that of welfare, which underwent massive restrictive reforms in the 1990s even as immigrant levels were rising. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) made all non-U.S. citizens (including legal resident aliens) ineligible for federal assistance. This led to a drastic decrease in government spending (though there were other modifications/restriction created by the PRWORA, nearly half of the savings created by the act came in reductions to or exclusions of immigrant benefits). It also led to a sudden rise in applications for citizenship from legal immigrants and resident aliens who had previously been eligible for many federal assistance programs. Other effects of the PRWORA have been less immediate, making cost/benefit analysis difficult.

The issue is complicated by the fact that any child born in the United States, regardless of their parents' immigration status, is a full citizen of the United States. In many instances, this means that federal, state, and local dollars are
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flowing to families that do not pay taxes at all (due to unauthorized and therefore unreported employment). At the same time, it is not clear the reducing benefits to immigrants is healthy for the United States social or economic bottom line. Medicaid is one example of this; though the cost of immigrant children using Medicaid is high, the reductions that are available by reducing allowances are fairly negligible. In addition, providing children (immigrant or not) adequate access to healthcare and education has been empirically shown to lead to increased productivity and success later in life, creating a boon for the U.S. economy. The current debate centers around the costs and benefits of both limiting immigration and the availability of federal assistance to immigrants, or alternatively expanding immigration and restoring welfare access as a means to encourage economic growth.

Critique

One of the major problems in dealing with such issues is perspective. The articles here deal with the problem purely as one of economics, and the fact is the economic impact of immigration is not hugely significant given the size of the U.S. population and economy. Furthermore, the full economic effects of immigration are too complex and far reaching to ever be determined with any certainty. What is clear is that short-term costs would rise dramatically if more federal assistance programs were made available to immigrants, both legal and otherwise, while the long-term effects remain very much a matter of debate. Decreasing aid can actually lead to an increase in cost in many areas, especially healthcare, in addition to raising humanitarian issues.

Most of the authors admit the somewhat nebulous areas of their arguments…

Sources Used in Documents:

Martin and Midgley (2006) do not really present an argument in their paper, but rather an overview of the current immigration situation. The same is largely true of Currie's article concerning Medicaid (1997). Both of these articles detail the complexities ofteh problems this country is facing, but fail to provide any sense of appropriate direction. Martin and Midgley especially merely detail the trends that have been observed in immigration, without offering any real solutions on how to deal with the ongoing immigration explosion. In suggesting that we could be experiencing a historical immigration peak before dipping into the trough the follows, the authors reaffirm their own conclusions without providing any immediately useful value judgments. The converse, however -- that is, behaving as though this were not a peak but simply a new trend in immigration -- renders the rest of their historical argument moot.

Currie provides somewhat more useful exploration and analysis of the conclusions he draws from his hard data. Yet while clearly suggesting that Medicaid reform is necessary in regards to immigrants, if only to make the program more equitable across regional, familial, and ethnic lines, he fails to note the added costs of medical care for children and other immigrants who are either not eligible for or are not receiving Medicaid benefits. There is a brief mention in the editor's note of emergency costs outstripping preventative care, but more in depth explanations and analyses are needed to make this argument logically viable (which it certainly is).

The shorter articles that comprise this reading deal with specific areas of the immigration aid issue in similarly quantitative ways, while rarely mentioning the qualitative aspects or making recommendations. The logic used is impeccable, but the scant number of real conclusions drawn in these articles does not make this especially impressive. For instance, while Ku (2001) and Capps et al. (2005) respectively note the lower rates of heath insurance amongst immigrants and the lower success rates of immigrant children in the No Child Left Behind Act, neither provides information regarding a response to these issues other than suggesting that reform is necessary. The same is true of Ruby's (2004) article concerning the need to ensure success for children in the early years of formal schooling. Few would argue that things like health insurance and adequate education are less beneficial or necessary to immigrants than they are to U.S. citizens; the questions is who ought to -- and who is wiling to -- pay for these things. This country has always had an interesting relationship with the concept of taxation, and this issue lies at the heart of the matter.

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