10 Misconceptions About U.S. Immigration

Most Immigrants Come for the Benefits
A senior citizen receives a free blood pressure check during a healthy living festival in Oakland, California. Common thinking is that most immigrants come to the U.S. for the benefits but studies show they use less of them than native-borns. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The U.S. has great benefits. There's Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), housing assistance, and welfare. One reason people are so anxious to get into the country is surely to tap into this rich banquet of free bennies. Or so common thinking goes.

But here's the thing — undocumented immigrants are barred by law from accessing any of these benefits. Furthermore, even legal immigrants can't collect these benefits for at least five years, until they become naturalized U.S. citizens. It's been the law since the 1996 Welfare Reform Act passed [source: Equal Rights Center].

That doesn't mean that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally receive no benefits whatsoever. All immigrants may receive emergency Medicaid, public health immunizations, K-12 public education and some forms of emergency disaster relief. And any children of illegal immigrants who are legal U.S. citizens because they were born here qualify for social benefits.

But interestingly, a 2001 RAND Corporation study showed undocumented immigrants and legal foreign-born residents used fewer medical benefits than native-born Americans. Native-born Americans (87 percent of the population) used 91.5 percent of America's $430 billion in national medical spending in 2000, while undocumented immigrants (3.2 percent of the population) accounted for just 1.5 percent [source: Goldman, Smith and Sood].