The High Cost of Legal and Illegal Immigration

Based on Census Bureau data, The Center for Immigration Studies has found that recent immigrants, both legal and illegal are disproportionately mired in poverty and dependent upon welfare.

It is time to face the fact that our immigration policies are a mess and that we are attracting people who, as a nation, make us worse off.  For those upset at that characterization, facts are facts.

Using the latest Census Bureau data from 2010 and 2011, this paper provides a detailed picture of the more than 50 million immigrants (legal and illegal) and their U.S.-born children (under 18) in the United States by country of birth, state, and legal status. One of the most important findings is that immigration has dramatically increased the size of the nation’s low-income population; however, there is great variation among immigrants by sending country and region. Moreover, many immigrants make significant progress the longer they live in the country. But even with this progress, immigrants who have been in the United States for 20 years are much more likely to live in poverty, lack health insurance, and access the welfare system than are native-born Americans. The large share of immigrants arriving as adults with relatively little education partly explains this phenomenon.

Overall Numbers

  • The number of immigrants (legal and illegal) in the country hit a new record of 40 million in 2010, a 28 percent increase over the total in 2000.
  • Of top sending countries, the largest percentage increase in the last decade was for those from Honduras (85 percent), India (74 percent), Guatemala (73 percent), Peru (54 percent), El Salvador (49 percent), Ecuador (48 percent), and China (43 percent).

Labor Force

  • In March of 2011, the share of working-age (18 to 65) immigrants holding a job was the same as natives — 68 percent. Immigrant men have higher rates of work than native-born men, while immigrant women have lower rates.
  • While immigrants tend to be concentrated in certain jobs, natives comprise the majority of workers in virtually every occupational category. For example, natives comprise 52 percent of maids, 73 percent of janitors, 66 percent of construction laborers, and 65 percent of butchers and meat processors.


  • In 2010, 23 percent of immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) lived in poverty, compared to 13.5 percent of natives and their children. Immigrants and their children accounted for one-fourth of all persons in poverty.
  • The children of immigrants account for one-third of all children in poverty.
  • Among the top sending countries, poverty is highest for immigrants and their young children from Mexico (35 percent), Honduras (34 percent), and Guatemala (31 percent); and lowest for those from Germany (7 percent), India (6 percent), and the Philippines (6 percent).

Welfare Use

  • In 2010, 36 percent of immigrant-headed households used at least one major welfare program (primarily food assistance and Medicaid) compared to 23 percent of native households.
  • Among the top sending countries, welfare use is highest for households headed by immigrants from Mexico (57 percent), Guatemala (55 percent), and the Dominican Republic (54 percent); and lowest for those from Canada (13 percent), Germany (10 percent), and the United Kingdom (6 percent).  Read more….

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