Recently, Trump advisor Stephen Miller announced plans to bar documented immigrants from citizenship if they or their families have ever used social assistance programs such as food stamps or welfare. Such action reflects stereotypes about who uses social assistance — in the United States, people of color take the blame. Not only are these stereotypes often incorrect, they are also deeply rooted in a long history of race and racism in America.
It is important to understand that racial minorities and immigrants do not necessarily use more public resources than native-born whites. Racial minorities and immigrants do tend to have lower incomes and levels of education than native-born whites, but research shows that they do not excessively use social assistance programs when compared with other groups.
- Sandra K Danziger. 2010. “The Decline of Cash Welfare and Implications for Social Policy and Poverty.” Annual Review of Sociology 36: 523-545.
- Andrew Cherlin, Bianca Frogner, David Ribar, and Robert Moffitt. 2009. “Welfare Reform in the Mid-2000s: How African American and Hispanic Families in Three Cities are Faring.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621(1): 178-201.
Americans’ attitudes towards welfare — particularly myths that certain groups overuse programs such as welfare and food stamps — are heavily rooted in politics of race and racism. In fact, several scholars have illustrated how political and ideological opposition to social spending are shaped by racial appeals. Even in the post Civil Rights era, political figures use implicit messaging and coded language to attack social spending programs and recipients of these programs, subtly implying racial minorities overuse such programs, thus perpetuating these racist narratives.
- Sanford Schram, Joe Soss, and Richard C. Fording. 2003. Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
- Joshua J. Dyck and Laura S. Hussey. 2008. “The End of Welfare as We Know It?Durable Attitudes in a Changing Information Environment.” Public Opinion Quarterly 72(4): 589-618.
- Ian Haney López. 2014. Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. New York: Oxford University Press.
Miller’s plan to bar citizenship for immigrants who have used social spending programs must also be understood as a consequence of historical racism in the American welfare state. During the 19th and 20th centuries, white working-class immigrants from a variety of European countries accessed social spending programs, opportunities for home ownership, and union membership due to their racial privilege. On the other hand, Blacks and other non-white groups — including non-white immigrants– were denied the same opportunities. This heightened racial inequality while simultaneously validating racist beliefs about minorities and immigrants. In short, while Miller’s plan seems to primarily focus on immigration, it most certainly also about race.
- Cybelle Fox. 2012. Three Worlds of Relief: Race, Immigration, and the American Welfare State from the Progressive Era to the New Deal. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Ira Katznelson. 2005. When Affirmative Action was White. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
- Vilna Bashi Treitler. 2013. The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.