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Immigrants and Welfare: The Impact of Welfare Reform on America's Newcomers
September 2011

Immigrants and Welfare: The Impact of Welfare Reform on America's Newcomers

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Migration Policy Institute, Russell Sage

The lore of the immigrant who comes to the United States to take advantage of our welfare system has a long history in America’s collective mythology, but it has little basis in fact. The so-called problem of immigrants on the dole was nonetheless a major concern of the 1996 welfare reform law, the impact of which is still playing out today. While legal immigrants continue to pay taxes and are eligible for the draft, welfare reform has severely limited their access to government supports in times of crisis. Immigrants and Welfare The Impact of Welfare Reform on America's Newcomers rigorously assesses the welfare reform law, questions whether its immigrant provisions were ever really necessary, and examines its impact on legal immigrants’ ability to integrate into American society.

Immigrants and Welfare draws on fields from demography and law to developmental psychology. The first part of the volume probes the politics behind the welfare reform law, its legal underpinnings, and what it may mean for integration policy. The second part of the book focuses on empirical research regarding immigrants’ propensity to use benefits before the law passed, and immigrants’ use and hardship levels afterwards.

Even though few states took the federal government’s invitation with the 1996 welfare reform law to completely freeze legal immigrants out of the social safety net, many of the law’s most far-reaching provisions remain in place and have significant implications for immigrants. Immigrants and Welfare takes a balanced look at the politics and history of immigrant access to safety-net supports and the ongoing impacts of welfare.

Table of Contents 

Immigrants and Welfare: Overview
Michael E. Fix, Randy Capps, and Neeraj Kaushal

Part I: Political and Legal Context

Limiting Welfare Benefits for Noncitizens: Emergence of Compromises
Ron Haskins

Welfare Reform after a Decade: Integration, Exclusion, and Immigration Federalism
Michael J. Wishnie

Part II: Trends in Benefit Use and Reform's Impacts

Immigrant Welfare Receipt: Implications for Immigrant Settlement and Integration
Jennifer Van Hook and Frank D. Bean

Trends in Immigrants’ Use of Public Assistance after Welfare Reform
Randy Capps, Michael E. Fix, and Everett Henderson

Changes in Immigrants’ Use of Medicaid and Food Stamps: The Role of Eligibility and Other Factors
Leighton Ku

Welfare-Leaving and Child Health and Behavior in Immigrant and Native Families
Ariel Kalil and Danielle A. Crosby