clock menu more-arrow no yes

What’s behind a conservative panic over refugees on food stamps

This is actually a pretty radical critique of the legal immigration system from Laura Ingraham:

If it's "insane" that most refugees are on food stamps, the implication is that America shouldn't be taking in any refugees who can't support themselves through work in the US. So either the country is taking in the wrong sort of refugees, or else it's taking in too many of them.

That's just antithetical to the way the immigration system actually works. The US allows refugees to come for a very particular reason: they've demonstrated that they're the victims of persecution based on specific characteristics (like race or political opinion) in their home country. That's it. Refugees don't gain or lose points for having relatives in the US (in most cases); they don't gain or lose points for being well or poorly educated, or being rich or poor.

The entire premise of admitting refugees is that there are people who are in serious danger in their home countries because they're the victims of targeted oppression and violence, and that those people deserve a chance to live safely somewhere — and the United States should be one place they can do it. It's an affirmation that people have intrinsic worth regardless of whether they can make a contribution in the countries that take them in.

That's why refugees and asylees are allowed to use food stamps to begin with, while most legal immigrants aren't.

There's not a lot that can be changed here, from a policy standpoint: there are international agreements preventing America from making its refugee policy much less welcoming. But it's a good illustration that there's a tremendous difference between the way the US immigration system actually chooses immigrants and the kind of immigrants that many Americans (particularly white Americans) think are deserving.

Many Americans prefer for immigrants to be employed and self-sufficient, preferably educated, English-speaking, and European: likely to assimilate quickly and easily into American society. And assimilability is something that many European countries value as part of their immigration policy. But under American immigration law, while there are a few ways for an immigrant to arrive — having family ties in the US, or having a job offer already, or showing humanitarian need — they're all very narrow, and they're all independent of each other. It doesn't value the sort of things Ingraham and company might want it to value, at all.