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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde August 10, 2016

Clinton says undocumented immigrants pay $12 billion a year into Social Security

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton reiterated her support for immigration reform at a joint convention of black and Hispanic journalists Aug. 5.

One of the event’s moderators, Telemundo national correspondent Lori Montenegro, asked Clinton how she would do it, since it has not been achieved during President Barack Obama’s time in office.

Clinton said she would introduce legislation for comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days in office and would take a "very hard look" at deportation priorities.

"My priority are violent criminals, people suspected of any kind of connection to terrorism," she said, "not hard-working mothers and fathers and people who go to work, help support this economy, pay $12 billion a year into Social Security."

We decided to take a look at her statement that undocumented immigrants pay $12 billion a year into Social Security.

Clinton’s campaign referred us to a note issued by the Social Security Administration in April 2013 outlining the effects of unauthorized immigration on the Social Security Trust Funds. The report cited the $12 billion figure, but it also said the calculation is based on contributions from immigrants and their employers — that makes a difference for considering Clinton's statement.

The two trust funds are the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), which pays retirement and survivors benefits, and the Disability Insurance (DI), used to pay disability benefits.

The note from the Office of the Chief Actuary said its estimates are based on the best available information, but that it is difficult to determine with certainty what portion of total taxes paid and benefits received come from earnings of unauthorized immigrants.

Still, the office estimated that in 2010, "the excess of tax revenue paid to the Trust Funds over benefits paid from these funds based on earnings of unauthorized workers is about $12 billion."

Here’s how the administration came up with that number.

Using Census estimates, SSA said about 12.6 million people were not permanent residents or citizens by January 2009. Nearly 11 million of them were undocumented, the rest had temporary status, such as student visas or temporary work visas.

SSA adjusted that pool to exclude kids and other undocumented immigrants who would not be working. That left about 8.3 million "other immigrants" in 2010 who worked in the United States, including people who did not have legal permanent residency, who were not U.S. citizens and who had temporary legal visas.

Of that 8.3 million people, SSA deducted the number of visa holders authorized to work (1.3 million) and an estimated number of those in the underground economy (3.9 million) who would not pay taxes.

That leaves about 3.1 million unauthorized immigrants who worked and paid Social Security taxes in 2010 — about 600,000 of them at some point had work permits and overstayed terms of their visas, about 700,000 used fraudulent birth certificates to get a Social Security number, and about 1.8 million used a Social Security number that did not match their name.

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SSA estimated this group of unauthorized immigrants and their employers generated $13 billion in payroll taxes in 2010. (SSA estimates workers earned about $34,000, with a 6.2 percent tax rate for workers and employers.) Workers and employers contribute roughly the same amount into Social Security.

The administration then subtracted about $1 billion in benefits that could’ve been received in 2010 from earnings in years when workers were unauthorized.

SSA analysts said "a relatively small portion" of those who could draw benefits do so.

Laws enacted in 1996 and 2004 block Social Security benefits paid to unauthorized immigrants or to any noncitizen without a work-authorized Social Security number at some point in time, the administration said.

Unauthorized immigrants themselves cannot get Social Security benefits, but if they obtain legal status, there are limited ways through which they can collect benefits, said Tom Jawtez, vice president for immigration policy at the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.

We looked around and SSA’s 2013 note appears to be its latest available on the effects of unauthorized immigration on Social Security funds. In a 2014 Vice News piece, SSA’s chief actuary Stephen C. Goss affirms the $12 billion contribution.

There are other estimates out there.

Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, pegs the annual amount of tax contributions by unauthorized immigrants at $7 billion.

The Heritage calculation is based on a withholding rate of 6.2 percent of earnings, estimated earnings of $31,200, and 3.6 million unauthorized workers. The foundation appears to exclude employers’ payments on behalf of workers.

Our ruling

Clinton said that if elected president her administration would focus on deporting violent criminals, not "hard-working mothers and fathers and people who go to work, help support this economy, pay $12 billion a year into Social Security."

The Social Security Administration estimates about $12 billion was paid into the administration’s trust funds from earnings of unauthorized workers in 2010 (after deducting about $1 billion from possible benefits paid out). This number includes contributions on behalf of employees as well as their employers. Workers and employers pony up about the same amount into the system.

A calculation by another group excluded employer contributions and came up with a total of $7 billion paid into the system by undocumented immigrants.

Clinton’s statement is partially accurate, but leaves out important details. We rate her statement Half True.

Our Sources

Hillary Clinton remarks at the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' joint convention, Aug. 5, 2016

Email exchange, Hillary Clinton campaign, Aug. 8, 2016

Center for American Progress, Improving Lives, Strengthening Finances: The Benefits of Immigration Reform to Social Security, June 14, 2013

Social Security Administration, Effects of unauthorized immigration on the actuarial status of the Social Security Trust Funds, April 2013

Social Security Advisory Board, Issue Brief #1: The Impact of Immigration on Social Security and the National Economy, December 2005

Social Security Administration, FICA and SECA taxes

Social Security Administration, Trust Fund FAQs

Social Security Administration, Social Security Testimony Before Congress, Feb. 16, 2006

Office of the Inspector General, Status of the Social Security Administration’s Earnings Suspense File, September 2015

Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax Contributions, February 2016

Heritage Foundation, The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer, May 6, 2013

PolitiFact, Trump says illegal immigrants get $4.2B in tax credits but doesn't count their taxes paid,  Aug. 18, 2015

Vice News, Unauthorized Immigrants Paid $100 Billion Into Social Security Over Last Decade, Aug. 4, 2014

The Seattle Times, Illegal immigrants pay Social Security tax, won’t benefit, Dec. 29, 2011

The New York Times, Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions, April 5, 2005

Phone interview, Wendy Feliz, communications director for American Immigration Council, Aug. 9, 2016

Email interview, Tom Jawtez, vice president for Immigration Policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund, Aug. 9, 2016

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Clinton says undocumented immigrants pay $12 billion a year into Social Security

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