Roughly one out of every five babies born in America has an immigrant mother, and U.S. taxpayers pay for a majority of those births, according to a new study released Tuesday.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which favors lower levels of immigration, crunched census data from the American Community Survey to derive its estimates. The giant survey covered the years 2012 through 2016.
The Washington-based think tank’s study paints a revealing picture of how immigration is changing the United States and offers a glimpse of the costs it imposes.
The annual average in the five-year period covered by the census surveys indicates that more than 791,000 births were to mothers who were immigrants — both legal and illegal. CIS estimated that about 62 percent of those immigrant mothers, or 494,000, came legally to the United States, while 297,000 of them were illegal immigrants.
The 791,582 total represents 19.9 percent of all births in the United States.
While the share of births to immigrants is high, the overall impact on U.S. birth rates is modest, said Steven Camarota, director of research at the think tank.
“It doesn’t really have the effect that they [mass immigration advocates] say … You don’t get this kind of enormous impact,” he told LifeZette.
Camarota, co-author of the study, pointed out that the birth rate of immigrant women ages 15 to 50 is 62 per 1,000. That is significantly higher than the rate of 50 per 1,000 native-born women. But immigrants raise the overall birth rate just to 52 per 1,000 women.
The study shows that the birth rate is substantially higher among low-income immigrant women. Among immigrant women living in poverty, the birth rate was 87 per 1,000, compared with 75 per 1,000 among natives in poverty. Among illegal immigrant women, the birth rate was 109 per 1,000.
The results can be seen in taxpayer-funded births. Among legal immigrants who gave birth, 46.9 percent either were enrolled in the Medicaid or had no insurance, shifting the cost to hospitals. Among illegal immigrants, that share was 54.3 percent.
Overall, legal and illegal immigrants together accounted for 24.4 percent of all Medicaid or uninsured births in the United States. The study pegs the annual costs to taxpayers for immigrant births at roughly $5.4 billion — $2.4 billion of which is for illegal immigrant mothers.
Those mothers also were substantially more likely to be poor and have less than a high school education that native-born women who gave birth.
“Because women in poverty have really high birth rates, they tend to have a lot of low-income kids,” Camarota said.
He said there are good reasons why even illegal immigrant women are allowed to enroll in Medicaid when they are pregnant. The babies they are carrying are going to be American citizens, and if they are uninsured, hospitals are not going to kick out women who show up in labor.
In addition, Camarota said, many Americans have trouble paying for their births. Nearly 42 percent of native-born mothers each year have Medicaid or are uninsured. But he said immigration has currently exacerbated those costs.
“It raises the question of whether our current immigration system makes sense … If you’ve already got a problem with that, it doesn’t make sense to add to it,” he said.
“It points up the flaws in our legal immigration process, where we take people based on family ties. We are bringing in a lot of people who are not self-sufficient.”
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the figures lend strong support for proposals to shift away from so-called chain migration to a merit-based system.
“It points up the flaws in our legal immigration process, where we take people based on family ties,” he told LifeZette. “We are bringing in a lot of people who are not self-sufficient.”
Mehlman rejected the argument that higher birth rates of immigrants are preventing the population stagnation gripping other wealthy democracies.
“We’re not in any real danger of following the path of Italy, Germany or Japan,” he said.
Not surprisingly, the states and cities with the most immigrants also had a high share of immigrant births. Immigrants — both legal and illegal — account for about a third of all births in California, New Jersey, and New York, for example.
Immigrants account for half or almost half of births in the Miami, San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas. Those are the metro regions with the highest share of immigrant births. The metros with the highest share of illegal immigrant births are Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Jose, Dallas, and Houston.
Births to illegal immigrant mothers make up more than one in seven of all births in those metropolitan areas.