Kirsten Powers: 'Complete and Utter Myth' That Illegal Aliens Receive Welfare, Other Benefits

Illegal immigrants get little in the way of welfare or other taxpayer-funded largesse, according to Kirsten Powers. And she's adamant about it.

The liberal columnist and Fox News contributor appeared on Geraldo Rivera's KABC radio show out of Los Angeles yesterday, at the same time Rivera invited GOP strategist George Ajjan. (audio clips after page break)

Here is Powers responding to a caller saying illegals "freeload" off the system at the expense of hard-working citizens (audio) --

POWERS: First of all, I just want to say what the caller was saying, that all these people are getting things for free, isn't really true. Most of the people, if you get a job in this country, and the Social Security Administration will tell you this, most of these people are paying into Social Security and will never get it. So, the idea that they're just getting things for free is not true. You also can't get welfare unless you are an American citizen, so that's another myth that's sort of out there, that they're coming here and taking all of our stuff without paying into it.

In terms of the political aspect and Republicans doing this (including anti-illegal provisions in GOP platform), I think they basically are just doubling down on this idea that they don't ever care if Hispanics ever vote for them again, you know, because I think that this, while this may be popular among the base of the Republican Party, I don't think that it's a mainstream position.

Ajjan offered a different take on illegal immigration, followed by Powers doubling down on her own (audio) --

AJJAN: Clearly the situation has gotten way out of control and I think ....

RIVERA: Which situation?

AJJAN: ... as (the caller) indicated it's starting to realize there's an imbalance and the system has gotten so big in Washington that it's impossible to manage. How are we to determine who's coming here with legitimate means, who's coming here with good intentions and who's coming here to take advantage of the system? You know, fundamentally what we need to do is create a situation in which we stop becoming a magnet for illegal immigration. When people realize that they can come here and very quickly obtain benefits from the state, it creates a draw that's bad for the economy.

What we need to do is go back to the old style of immigration where people who were going to come here and contribute and do great things and be entrepreneurs and grow the economy are the ones that are attracted to come here and are in fact encouraged to come here.

RIVERA: Kirsten?

POWERS: Geraldo, it is a complete and utter myth that illegal immigrants come and get welfare. You cannot get welfare unless you are an American citizen. The only thing that they're getting would be if their kids are in school and they're maybe getting lunch or something. And if Republicans are telling me they want to take the lunches away from the kids, I mean, is that their position?

AJJAN: No, no, no, not at all. Not at all.

POWERS: They can't get food stamps, they can't do any of the things that people keep saying that they're doing. You can't get government benefits unless you are an American citizen -- period, end of story. I mean, it's just, that's the way it works.

It didn't take long for a caller to challenge Powers, followed by Rivera (audio) --

CALLER: I think she's being disingenuous when she says they don't get anything free. They get free medical care and they do get welfare for their children. And to make sure that they are eligible, when they're working only 18 percent of their earned income is counted. As an American family, 100 percent of their income is counted.

RIVERA: I don't know about the clause of which you speak, but Kirsten, let's face it, there are some benefits that accrue to someone who is here whether the residence is legal or undocumented or illegal. I mean, public schools is the big one, public hospitals another. It's impossible to deny, even though I favor liberalized immigration rules and I applaud the president for finally getting around to the DREAM Act kids, I mean, we can't pretend that undocumented immigrants don't cost taxpayers some money.

POWERS: Yeah, they cost the taxpayers money, but they also pay into, that's what people don't realize, they're paying into the Social Security system and they're not ever going to see that money back. And I actually said when I was talking about it that the only benefits that they get are for their children and that would be like a school lunch program, things like that. And I'm just asking, is that what Republicans are saying that they want to take away? I mean, we just have to have an honest conversation. When people just sort of throw it out there and say, oh, they're getting all these benefits, OK, well let's talk about the specific benefit they're getting. They're getting a free school lunch for their kid. Do you want to take that away? Is that their position?

Powers is correct about illegals paying into Social Security -- but wrong on the math. She also glosses over the deception involved in the use of fraudulent Social Security cards to pay into the system, deceit that could presumably extend to obtaining other entitlements.

In a Seattle Times story last December, "Illegal immigrants pay Social Security tax, won't benefit," reporter John Lantigua wrote --

Social Security officials keep a record of wages that do not match up with real names and numbers in their system. The record is called the earnings suspense file. ...

That total hit a record $90.4 billion, earned by 10.8 million workers, in 2007, just before the recession. Some of those were legal workers who simply made paperwork mistakes, but the vast majority are believed to be illegal immigrants. ...

That means about $11.2 billion went into the Social Security Trust Fund in 2007, and $2.6 billion went into Medicare. While that money will be used to pay retirees and health-care beneficiaries, it most likely will never be claimed by the illegal immigrants who contributed it ....

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, a leading voice for stricter immigration enforcement, concedes illegal immigrants put billions of dollars into Social Security. He says the figure he has heard is about $7 billion per year in FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) contributions -- Social Security plus Medicare.

"But that $7 billion figure pales when compared to the cost of having illegal aliens here," Mehlman said.

His federation estimates local, state and federal spending on illegal immigrants -- mainly for education and health care -- costs about $100 billion per year.

Another caller to Rivera's show was harshly critical of Powers, accusing her of lying about illegals not receiving welfare, and cited a source to back up his claim. Unfortunately, Powers was no longer on the show and the caller could not challenge her directly. (audio)

His source was a post last month by Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit titled, "Stunner ... Most Illegal Immigrant Families Collect Welfare -- Obama Wants to Up That Number."

Hoft cited Judicial Watch, which wrote this based on a report from the Center for Immigration Studies --

Surprise, surprise: Census Bureau data reveals that most U.S. families headed by illegal immigrants use taxpayer-funded welfare programs on behalf of their America-born anchor babies.  Even before the recession, immigrant households with children used welfare programs at consistently higher rates than natives, according to the extensive census data collected and analyzed by a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., group dedicated to researching legal and illegal immigration in the U.S. The results, published this month in a lengthy report, are hardly surprising. Basically, the majority of households across the country benefiting from publicly-funded welfare programs are headed by immigrants, both legal and illegal. States where immigrant households with children have the highest welfare use rates are Arizona (62 percent); Texas, California and New York with 61 percent each, and Pennsylvania (59 percent).

The study focused on eight major welfare programs that cost the government $517 billion the year they were examined. They include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for the disabled, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a nutritional program known as Women, Infants and Children (WIC), food stamps, free/reduced school lunch, public housing  and health insurance for the poor (Medicaid). Food assistance and Medicaid are the programs most commonly used by illegal immigrants, mainly on behalf of their American-born children who get automatic citizenship.

In other words, far more than free school lunch for children, regardless of how piously and strenuously Powers claims otherwise. 

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts