Foreign Cows vs Foreign People

Charles Kenny contrasts America’s stringy treatment of foreign-born people who’d like to move to the United States with our generous treatment of foreign-born cows:

Once in the United States, Canadian and Mexican cattle have to be treated just like native-born cows — they can’t be labeled differently to consumers or otherwise discriminated against. Canadian and Mexican people have no such luck. For example, Canadian Kiefer Sutherland, star of the hit TV show 24, couldn’t apply for the government job he pretends to have on TV, despite his character’s role as a forceful practitioner of truth, justice, and the American way.

One element of this bovine bias is that cows get immediate access to the U.S. welfare system. In 2009, 9 million dairy cows living in the United States received $1.35 billion in subsidies, regardless of their country of origin. That’s about $20,000 a year per bovine household (or herd, which averages around 133 cows). Meanwhile, annual payments for the average human household on welfare are only around $16,800 — and, of course, around four-fifths of legal immigrants aren’t on any type of welfare at all, while illegal and nonpermanent human residents aren’t even eligible. If you want to see a real welfare queen, check out a dairy cow.

By the standards of the rich world the United States is an outlier in terms of having better policies toward both immigration and farm subsidies than does Europe or (especially) Japan, but there’s still tons of room for improvement here.