Monday, November 24th, 2014

'Illegal Alien Facts' vs. the Truth-O-Meter

A reader asked us to check out this Facebook post with 10 claims about illegal aliens.
A reader asked us to check out this Facebook post with 10 claims about illegal aliens.

With immigration becoming an important issue in the 2012 campaign, we've been hearing lots of claims and counter-claims about illegal immigrants. So we're doing a few fact-checks on a widely circulated Facebook post that claims to offer "10 Illegal Alien Facts."

The list, which is not attributed, claims that illegal immigrants are largely dependent on government programs and handouts. We’ve published fact-checks of two of the claims in the post and will publish a third soon. We'll update this story when we do.

"More than 43 percent of all food stamps are given to illegals"

We found this one was preposterous. In March 2012, the most recent month for which figures are available, a total of 46.4 million people received food stamps, so 43 percent of that number would be slightly less than 20 million.

For obvious reasons, the numbers of illegal immigrants is much trickier to track. However, the most widely accepted number comes from the Pew Hispanic Center, which estimated that there were 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the United States in 2010.

So it’s mathematically impossible for more than 43 percent of all food stamps to be given to illegals. And this doesn’t take into account an even more basic reality: It is against the law for Illegal immigrants to receive food stamps. We rated this claim Pants on Fire!
 

"Less than 2 percent of illegals are picking crops, but 41 percent are on welfare"
   
There's some truth to the first part of this claim, but the second part is largely unfounded.

The estimates for agriculture occupations that we've seen hover between 3 percent and 4 percent. Given how tricky these statistics are, we concluded that saying that "less than 2 percent of illegals are picking crops" is reasonably accurate.
   
The second half of the statement was more problematic.
   
According to a 2007 report by the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors stricter immigration laws, 40 percent of illegal immigrant-headed households used any "major welfare" program in the previous calendar year.
   
But it’s important to keep two bits of context in mind:
   
• This statistic addresses households headed by an illegal immigrant. However, many of these households include American citizens within the family, often children who were born in the United States and who received citizenship at birth. Indeed, given the web of restrictions on the granting of government benefits to illegal immigrants, most of the "welfare" benefits being counted in the CIS table are going to citizen children, not to adult illegal immigrants.
   
• We suspect that when many people hear the term "welfare," they think of cash benefits. However, very little cash assistance is going to illegal immigrants. According to CIS, less than 1 percent of illegal-immigrant-headed households included anyone receiving direct government cash assistance, such as Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or state-run cash aid. This is not surprising: Illegal immigrants are generally barred from receiving such payments.
   
Instead, 27 percent of such households received coverage from Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, while 33 percent received food assistance, such as free or reduced-price school lunches, food stamps, or benefits from the Women-Infants-Children program (WIC). As noted earlier, many of the recipients of these programs were actually citizen children of illegal immigrants.

On balance, we rated the claim Mostly False.