A comprehensive study of U.S. Census Bureau reports of welfare participation revealed Wednesday that 51 percent of immigrants -- legal and illegal -- access welfare programs, far more than the 30 percent of native-born Americans.

The Center for Immigration Studies analysis of the Census Survey of Income and Program Participation found "significantly higher rates" of immigrants on government programs than other government surveys, showing that Washington has done little to curb access to Medicaid, cash, food, and housing programs.

"If immigration is supposed to benefit the country, then immigrant welfare use should be much lower than native use," said Steven Camarota the Center's director of research and the report's author.

"However, two decades after welfare reform tried to curtail immigrant welfare use, immigrant households are using most programs at higher rates than natives. The low-skill level of many immigrants means that although most work, many also access welfare programs. If we continue to allow large numbers of less-educated immigrants to settle in the country, then immigrant welfare use will remain high," he added in a statement provided to Secrets.

While designed to help poor American families, there are several openings for immigrants -- legal and illegal -- to get welfare, according to the report.

"Limits only apply to some programs; most legal immigrants have been in the country long enough to qualify for welfare; the restrictions often do not apply to children; states often provide welfare to new immigrants on their own; naturalizing makes immigrants eligible for all programs; and, most important, im­migrants (including illegal immigrants) can receive benefits on behalf of their U.S.-born children, who are awarded U.S. citizenship at birth," said CIS.

The 53-page report indicates that most of the households surveyed are headed by a legal immigrant.

It found that Medicaid is the top program accessed by immigrants. But, CIS found, even "if that program is excluded it is still the case that 44 percent of immigrant households use one or more welfare programs compared to 26 percent of native households — a 19 percentage-point difference."

In the report provided to Secrets, CIS listed these key findings:

-- Welfare use is high for both new arrivals and long-time residents. Of households headed by immigrants who have been in the country for more than two decades, 48 percent access welfare.

-- No single program explains immigrants' higher overall welfare use. For example, not counting subsidized school lunch, welfare use is still 46 percent for immigrants and 28 percent for natives.

-- Immigrant households have much higher use of food programs (40 percent vs. 22 percent for natives) and Medicaid (42 percent vs. 23 percent). Immigrant use of cash programs is somewhat higher than natives (12 percent vs. 10 percent) and immigrant use of housing programs is similar to natives.

-- Welfare use varies among immigrant groups. Households headed by immigrants from Central America and Mexico (73 percent), the Caribbean (51 percent), and Africa (48 percent) have the highest overall welfare use. Those from East Asia (32 percent), Europe (26 percent), and South Asia (17 percent) have the lowest.

-- Many immigrants struggle to support their children, and a large share of welfare is received on behalf of U.S.-born children. However, even immigrant households without children have significantly higher welfare use than native households without children — 30 percent vs. 20 percent.

-- In 2012, 76 percent of households headed by an immigrant who had not graduated high school used one or more welfare programs, as did 63 percent of households headed by an immigrant with only a high school education.

-- In the four top immigrant-receiving states, use of welfare by immigrant households is significantly higher than that of native households: California (55 percent vs. 30 percent), New York (59 percent vs. 33 percent), Texas (57 percent vs. 34 percent), and Florida (42 percent vs. 28 percent).

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.