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Immigration and Public Benefits

In my Immigration Law class, we are currently discussing the impact of unauthorized immigrants on the public treasury. More specifically, we’ve been debating the participation of unauthorized immigrants in public benefits programs and whether they create a net loss through their consumption of public services (e.g. public education, public benefits,hospitals, etc…). It’s been interesting listening to peoples’ opinions on this given what I see at CLS and especially at the Chinatown Clinic. In light of my experience this past semester, I think that the arguments presented by different scholars are overly simplistic and don’t actually reflect what is going on in the real world. For example, some argue that overall unauthorized immigrants may nothave a huge negative impact on the public treasury because they consume very few public services and any slight consumption is largely offset by the taxes and social security income paid by these immigrants. Furthermore, they argue that it is necessary to take into account the fact that many have children who grow up and are better educated and therefore able to find better employment. Theypoint out that these children pay higher taxes and contribute more to society, which generally offsets any loss attributable to their unauthorized immigrant parents.
I find it interesting that these are the leading scholarly arguments when the clients I have been helping at the Chinatown Clinic are not at all like the unauthorized immigrants envisioned by these scholars. Of course, I deal witha small subsection of the unauthorized immigrant population at the clinic, so I can certainly see how maybe in the grand scheme of things, these theories might actually play out. However, the reality that I see every week is very different. Most of my clients at the Clinic are elderly and unable to work. Those who do work are generally paid under the table in cash, so they are not contributingmuch in terms of tax income to the public treasury. In addition, many of them do not have children here, so it is unlikely that their usage of public benefits will be offset by any future tax income resulting from legal employment. This is not to say that my clients should not be receiving health care or food stamps or any other public assistance because they won’t be providing some kind ofnet benefit to society, but I can definitely see why people get angry over it.
In my class, the professor raised another interesting point, which was that aside from not being eligible for most public benefits programs, many unauthorized immigrants might not apply because of fear that it puts them at risk for deportation. I thought about what he said and the amount of detail you have to givewhen applying for MA, and realized he had a point. It takes no stretch of the imagination to figure out why an illegal immigrant might not feel comfortable giving out their address, phone number, employment information, and bank account statements. So I asked Maripat about whether we are putting our clients at risk somehow by basically giving the government all the information they would need totrack down and apprehend the unauthorized immigrant. She said that this was definitely a huge concern that is often expressed by our clients, and that she has to explain in great detail each time that nothing will happen to them if they apply for medical assistance. She said that attorneys at CLS never say someone is undocumented – they merely say that a client does not have a social securitynumber without specifically mentioning why this is the case. She also said that generally, the CAO does not inquire further into the immigration status of an applicant and never communicates with the INS unless it is to verify someone’s immigration status based on documentation that we have given them. (For example, a few weeks ago I submitted an application for a family of asylees, and called up...
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