Welfare as a Magnet for Immigration: Some Evidence
By David Henderson
The focus in the  welfare reform legislation on scaling back the safety net for immigrants was, in some part, a response to concerns that generous public benefits lead to in‐migration to the U.S. and interstate flows of immigrants responding to “welfare magnets” (e.g., Borjas 1999) although the empirical evidence does not uniformly support this theory (e.g., Zavodny 1999, Kaushal 2005, Van Hook and Bean 2009). Further, the scaling back of immigrant access to the safety net was also a response to concerns about higher participation among immigrants compared than natives (Borjas 1995) although other studies find lower participation rates (Capps, Fix, and Henderson 2009). Higher rates of participation by immigrants are in part explained by immigrants’ lower incomes, and are concentrated among the elderly (Borjas and Hilton, 1996; Hu, 1998) and refugee populations (Fix and Passel 1994). Notably, noncitizen use of Supplemental Security Income (cash welfare for the aged and disabled) rose by 80 percent between 1990 and 1995 (Social Security Administration 2010). [Bold added.]
This is from Marianne Bitler and Hilary W. Hoynes, “Immigrants, Welfare Reform, and the U.S. Safety Net,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 17667, December 2011, pp. 1-2.
Our analysis yields several interesting and important findings for families with children. First, we show that immigrants generally participate in the safety net at lower rates than natives once we restrict ourselves to comparisons within the set of lower‐income families. This is true for almost all programs we consider and is true both before and after welfare reform. Second, the national trends in safety net participation are broadly consistent with the finding of reduced immigrant access to the safety net post welfare reform. Similarly, our results show that immigrants rely more on earnings as a source of income (than do natives) and the degree of reliance has increased post‐welfare reform. Finally, using variations in state labor market conditions, we find that child poverty rates for immigrant‐headed households have risen with unemployment in the Great Recession at rates far exceeding the rise for children in native headed households. That is, a given increase in unemployment causes a larger increase in poverty for children in immigrant headed than native headed households. In addition, the safety net has acted to dampen the effect of the Great and 2001 recessions for children of the native born but not for children of immigrants. [Bold added.]
The ungated version is here.