"Illegal immigrants get free benefits!"?
"Illegal Immigrants and Benefits
Undocumented Aliens Do Not Overburden Government Programs
May 30, 2008 Pierre Tristam
Undocumented immigrants in the United States may create problems for some. Burdening government programs isn't among those problems.
It’s a widely held misperceptions: Undocumented immigrants pay no taxes but take advantage of a slew of taxpayer-supported federal benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare (the health care programs for the poor and the elderly), Social Security, housing and hospital services. In fact, federal law bars undocumented alien access to all those benefits, with very few exceptions.
A Nation of Immigrants
As of 2005, the most recent year for which data is available, some 37 million foreign-born people lived in the United States. That’s more than 12 percent of the population, the highest level in the nation’s history. An estimated one-third of those are undocumented, or “illegal,” immigrants, although the real number is unknown.
Before 1986, many social programs — health care, education, nutrition, welfare — did not specify that recipients had to be American or legal immigrants. A Congressional Research Service report notes that that began to change in 1986, when Medicaid recipients were required to certify under penalty of perjury that they were legal immigrants or citizens. Eligibility requirements were further tightened in 1996 when Congress passed (and President Clinton signed) the welfare-reform law known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. From then on, only citizens or legal immigrants, such as those with a Green Card, were eligible for federal benefits.
Federal law also bars states and local governments from extending those benefits to undocumented immigrants.
Benefits for the Undocumented: the Exceptions
Few, narrow exceptions apply. For example, undocumented immigrants are eligible for certain emergency medical treatments. They may receive short-term disaster relief. They may be immunized against communicable diseases. They may be served at soup kitchens or seek refuge in homeless shelters. Children of undocumented immigrants may attend public schools. But those same children are not eligible for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers children of the working poor not eligible for Medicaid.
How do federal and state government agencies keep track of eligibility? Through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement system, known by its ironically termed acronym, SAVE. The program was authorized in 1986 and requires almost all federal agencies to use it to determine applicants’ eligibility for social services.
Scant Evidence of Fraud
Still, perceptions are such that many Americans believe undocumented immigrants are abusing the system. There is little evidence backing up the claim. What scant evidence exists contradicts it. A 2002 Government Accounting Office report found that an estimated $1.33 billion in unemployment compensation was paid out to ineligble recipients. But just $30 million of that was paid out to illegal aliens, the GAO noted, or less than 0.001 percent of the $53.8 billion the Department of Labor paid out in unemployment that year.
Undocumented Immigrants and Taxes
Similar misperceptions about undocumented immigrants abound, especially when it comes to taxes. The perception is that the undocumented pay no taxes. In fact, they pay sales taxes like everyone else, most pay Social Security taxes, which they will never recoup, as well as income taxes: one is not required to be documented to pay taxes.
Debates rage over whether undocumented immigrants benefit from the American system more than they pay into it. Evidence is divided over the matter, depending on who’s making the estimates. What’s more certain is that the American economy would be severely hampered by the sudden vanishing of every undocumented immigrant, and that, when it comes to tax-supported government programs, the undocumented likely contribute more than they benefit."