The members of the Latino Action Network were dismayed at the tone and misleading information in the Sept. 4 editorial “Land of (free) milk and honey.” The suggestion that immigrants are somehow getting more benefits then they deserve from safety net programs fits into the mad as hell xenophobia that Republican presidential candidates are generating to appeal to their most extreme base.
In the editorial, the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies touts its recent report based on a 2012 Census Report that twists facts to make it appear that immigrants are getting unfair benefits. It fits into the campaign rhetoric of some suggesting that deporting 11 million or more undocumented immigrants would benefit our economy. After years of debate on immigration reform, it would seem that this idea was discredited by nearly all but the most ignorant and biased Americans.
Let us look at some real facts. Start with the fact that 25 percent of New Jersey’s workforce are immigrants, according to the Census Bureau. And according to the New Jersey Department of Labor, two out of three new workers entering the workforce in this decade are Latinos, mostly from immigrant families.
According to an Eagleton Institute study, immigrant workers, mostly Asian and Latino, together contributed $47 billion to our gross domestic product in 2007, which certainly grows each year. Pew Foundation studies show that about 9.3 percent of these workers are unauthorized. Many are part of a mixed status family, which amplifies their importance. If you removed these workers, the Perryman Group estimates that it would result in a loss of $24.3 billion in expenditures and $10.7 billion in economic output. In other words, New Jersey would suffer an economic jolt that would send our state budget into a tailspin.
For 12 years, I was executive director of the Hispanic Directors Association, a coalition of Hispanic nonprofits that ran programs to help all those in need. One of the greatest frustrations was that we were not able to help unauthorized immigrants through many of our state-funded programs.
For humanitarian reasons we fought hard for the state to provide basic services to these families, such as pre-natal care through its Medicaid program and emergency charity care. I will never forget when one of our social workers found an undocumented mother hesitating to bring her child, who had ingested a household poison, to the emergency room for fear she would be deported. By the time we got them to the hospital, the child died. As far as unauthorized immigrants receiving welfare benefits, most would not even try.
Finally, the Center for Immigration Studies’ assertion that the majority of immigrants are receiving welfare benefits is simply a jumble of nonsensical numbers. First, as the numbers above show, immigrants make a major contribution to our economy. They, including many unauthorized immigrants, pay their taxes.
For the first five years, immigrants who receive green cards are not eligible for welfare assistance. Once they pass that hurdle, some, as many Americans did during the past recession, may take advantage of programs like school lunches and food stamps. When I look at the benefits that New Jersey receives from immigrants, I would argue we get a great deal. It is the kind of deal that makes me proud to be an American.
Daniel Santo Pietro is chair of public policy for the Latino Action Network.
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