The Corner

Opposition Party Misleads on Immigrant Welfare Use

Media bias is well known, but occasionally a major outlet will publish something that is so one-sided that it surprises even me. A Washington Post article yesterday by Abigail Hauslohner and Janell Ross meets that standard. Ostensibly a straight news piece about the Trump administration’s draft order on immigrant welfare receipt, the article instead reads like a brief from the “opposition party,” as Steve Bannon would say.

Here is the most objectionable part of the article: “The draft order provides no evidence to support the claim that immigrant households are more likely to use welfare benefits, and there is no consensus among experts about immigration’s impact on such benefits.”

Well. Had the reporters googled “immigrant welfare use,” this is what would have appeared at the top of their screens:

As they scanned further down the results page, they would not see any contrary study claiming that immigrant households use less welfare — because no such study exists. Even if they were unable or unwilling to learn this information from the Internet, Hauslohner and Ross could have called someone who would give them those facts. They did not. Representatives from immigration-boosting organizations are quoted extensively in their article, but immigration skeptics get no say at all.

There’s more. Trying to give the impression that welfare eligibility rules are already strict, the reporters describe at length how immigrants are barred if they are likely to be “public charges,” and how legal immigrants cannot receive welfare for five years. A balanced article would note that the public charge rule is virtually never enforced, that Congress has significantly watered down the five-year rule, and that only about 15 percent of legal immigrant residents currently fall within the five-year window anyway. But this is not a balanced article.

At one point, Hauslohner and Ross contrast “conservative” arguments with the views of “experts”:

[The draft order] also instructs DHS and the State Department to submit a report on “the steps they are taking to combat the birth tourism phenomenon,” meaning instances in which noncitizens come to the U.S. to have children who in turn gain citizenship, a popular conservative refrain but one that is dismissed by immigration experts as a relatively minor problem [emphasis added].

Instances of birth tourism probably number in the tens of thousands each year, but there are no hard data on the topic. How “experts” have judged the problem to be minor is not clear.

Finally, the article claims that illegal immigrants cannot receive any welfare benefits. This is a canard. Illegal immigrants receive benefits on behalf of their U.S.-born children. In fact, roughly 62 percent of households headed by an illegal immigrant receive some form of welfare. That’s why it is so important to measure welfare receipt at the household or family level.

There are more problems, but this post is already getting too long. The bottom line is that if mainstream media outlets pushing “fact checks” and hunting down “fake news” really want to restore their credibility with the public, they should make an effort to reduce their own bias. No such effort was made here.

Jason Richwine is a public-policy analyst and a contributor to National Review Online.

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