More than half of households headed by immigrants in the county illegally, or 62 percent, received welfare benefits in 2012, according to a report released by the Center for Immigration Studies.
In the same time period, 49 percent of households headed by legal immigrants received welfare benefits, while 30 percent of households headed by natives received the same.
The report evaluates data from the Census Bureau and found that illegal immigrant households benefit mostly from food programs like food stamps and Medicaid through their native-born children.
"Welfare use by illegal immigrant households is certainly a concern, but the bigger issue is welfare use by legal immigrants," said Steven Camarota, the Center's director of research and author of the report. "Three-fourths of immigrant households using welfare are headed by legal immigrants."
"Legal immigration is supposed to benefit the country, yet so many legal immigrants are not able to support themselves or their children," he continued.
When households have children, the percentage of those receiving benefits increases. "Of legal immigrant households with children, 72 percent access one or more welfare programs, compared to 52 percent of native households," states the report.
And illegal immigrant households have higher use rates of government benefits than native-born households.
"Households headed by immigrants illegally in the country have higher use rates than native households overall and for food programs (57 percent vs. 22 percent) and Medicaid (51 percent vs. 23 percent)," states the report. "Use of cash programs by illegal immigrants is lower than use by natives (5 percent vs. 10 percent), as is use of housing programs (4 percent vs. 6 percent)."
The report also finds that some restrictions on government benefits are not enforced, and there are many exemptions or ways for these individuals to skirt them.
"Restrictions on new legal immigrants' access to welfare have not prevented them from accessing programs at high rates because restrictions often apply to only a modest share of immigrants at any one time," states the report. "Some programs are not restricted, there are numerous exceptions and exemptions, and some provisions are entirely unenforced. Equally important, immigrants, including those illegally in the country, can receive welfare on behalf of their U.S.-born children."