Mickey Kaus has linked to the newly posted video of a CIS panel discussion, which he and NRO’s own Iain Murray participated in, marking the release of a new report on immigrant use of welfare. Mickey was worried that his answer to a question of mine had been inadequate, and tried to elucidate on his blog. I’d asked: “Isn’t it a failure of policy to have any immigrants on welfare?” In other words, it’s distressing indeed that we found immigrant families with children half-again more likely to use welfare than their native-born counterparts; but, since the admission of immigrants is a discretionary federal policy, wouldn’t an immigrant welfare-use rate half that of natives still be too much? Why should we admit any newcomers likely to need taxpayer subsidies?
Mickey answered No, some level of immigrant welfare use doesn’t represent a failure of policy, and I’m afraid his written answer isn’t any more persuasive: “Those people are some of our best neighbors and fellow citizens.” I don’t doubt that’s the case, but some of them aren’t, and anyway we need to make decisions about future admissions of people who aren’t yet neighbors or fellow citizens at all.
Iain’s takehome was that there’s nothing wrong with mass immigration that ending the welfare state won’t fix, but even accepting the inevitability of the welfare state in a modern society, it would seem its goal should be to asymptotically approach zero for the number of people being subsidized by taxpayers. And if the federal immigration program is admitting the people with characteristics likely to land them on the dole, then there’s something wrong with it.
Mickey acknowledges that if too many immigrants end up on welfare that’s an indication that we’re letting in too many unskilled people, but being a liberal (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) I think he doesn’t get the moral problem — yes, welfare recipients should be made to work, but that’s not the end of it. Even if they have jobs, receipt of welfare is a bad thing by definition, something that should carry a stigma and be avoided — and so there’s a moral problem with admitting people from outside the political community who will end up living off the taxpayer. If welfare is a necessary evil for our fellow countrymen under some circumstances, it’s an unnecessary evil for outsiders.