Should the U.S. Want Syrian Refugees?

There is talk of the United States doing “its share” by taking in a large number of Syrian refugees (many of whom are migrants, not refugees, and many of whom will prove not to come from Syria). There is of course a humanitarian case for admitting residents of a war zone. The problem is that there are many miserable places on the Earth, and no obvious limiting principle. How much misery, exactly, can Western countries be expected to alleviate through immigration?

But let’s pose a different question: what can the United States expect from a new wave of refugees from the Middle East? Open borders advocates portray immigrants of all sorts as a boon to our economy and a source of growth and prosperity. But the facts are quite different. Using data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Jeff Sessions’ office prepared this chart, showing the types of government assistance that are utilized by the current generation of Middle Eastern refugees. The chart shows the percentage of Middle Eastern refugees admitted from 2008 to 2013 who were utilizing the benefits in question as of FY 2013. Click to enlarge:


91% on food stamps, 73% on Medicaid, 68% receiving cash assistance, 32% on Supplemental Security Income, which is designed “to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.”

Sessions’ office writes:

During the time period referenced in the chart (FY2008 to FY2013), the United States admitted 115,617 refugees from the Middle East and granted asylum to another 10,026. Also during this 5-year time frame, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the United States granted permanent admission to a total of 308,805 individuals from the Middle East through the issuance of green cards. Those with green cards are Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) of the United States who may apply for citizenship after 5 years and bring their foreign relatives into the U.S. on green cards as well. …

More broadly, concerning all immigration, the Migration Policy Institute notes that the U.S. has taken in “about 20 percent of the world’s international migrants, even as it represents less than 5 percent of the global population,” and that 1 in 4 U.S. residents is now either an immigrant or born to immigrant parents. The Census projects that another 14 million immigrants will arrive in the United States between now and 2025, easily eclipsing the highest previous historical watermark for foreign-born population share.

There are some who say: I don’t care! I want to care for the world’s poor. Fine. But be forewarned, an estimated 2.8 billion people live on less than $2 a day. You can have a welfare state or you can have open borders, but you can’t have both.