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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman January 24, 2019

No, 18 million illegal immigrants did not get a 'government check' this month

As the government shutdown continues its stretch as the longest in U.S. history, claims on who is and isn’t affected, and everything in between, have been called into question.

If you still have some lingering questions, we tackled many of them here and here.

But now, a viral Facebook post is alleging that millions of undocumented immigrants have received checks from the government while federal workers remain unpaid.

One post claiming this, shared on Jan. 20, has been shared more than 4,100 times. An identical one, posted a day later, has racked up more than 3,200 shares.

The full post reads: "18 million illegal immigrants got their government checks this month… Federal works...let that sink in."

It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

We reached out to some of the people who shared this meme on their pages for evidence. One user responded in the comments of the post, pointing to a 1997 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The other, a Facebook account called "Washington State for Donald Trump 2020," told us it came from comments made by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on a Fox News segment.

Jordan’s spokesperson, Ian Fury, said he was not familiar with the claim, and when we searched Fox News content, we did not find evidence that the congressman said the phrase.

The 1997 report only covers what types of benefits undocumented immigrants can receive, which are food programs or Medicaid through their U.S.-born children, and how much that had cost 20 years ago. While it does discuss that some of these families may misrepresent their income to receive more, it isn’t relevant to the claim that "18 million" just received a government check.

In our research we found that, no, 18 million illegal immigrants did not receive a check from the government amid the shut down.

Here’s how we know.

First, a November 2018 study by the Pew Research Center puts the total number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. far lower than 18 million.

As of 2016, the most recent data available, the report found the number of undocumented immigrants living in the country decreased to 10.7 million from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007.

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In a fact sheet published the same month by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, they estimated the figure is closer to 11.3 million.

Taking either figure into account, it would be impossible for 18 million undocumented immigrants to receive checks from the government, because there are only approximately 11 million living in the country.

We spoke with Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute.

"Obviously, unauthorized immigrants themselves are hardly eligible for any government assistance that it’s hard to know what they would be getting checks for," Capps said.

"Their children who are born in the U.S. may be eligible for emergency Medicaid, but that is not the majority.... And as far as food stamps go, most illegal immigrants are ineligible for that. If they are receiving them, it’s only a fraction of the population and it isn’t for themselves it’s for their children, and again that’s not a check."

The mathematical misstep may have stemmed from lumping the number of legal immigrants into the equation.

According to a December 2018 report by the Center for Immigration Studies, 63 percent of non-citizen households use welfare programs. But the same report states, citing census data, that only about half of non-citizen households are made up of undocumented immigrants. The rest of the folks in this group include long-term temporary visitors such as guest workers and foreign students as well as permanent residents who have not be naturalized but hold green cards

Then, there are also legal restrictions that limit immigrants from receiving most federal benefits. Undocumented immigrant households primarily benefit from government food programs and Medicaid through their U.S.-born children.

Undocumeted immigrants are ineligible to receive the following federal benefits: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), non-emergency Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and its precursor, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), according to the National Immigration Law Center.

Another report by the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors low levels of immigration, estimated that in 2012, of the number of  households headed by immigrants who are in the country illegally, 4 percent used housing programs.

"While households headed by illegal immigrants make some use of housing and cash programs, their use is lower than that of households headed by the native-born for these programs," the study said.

Our ruling

Viral Facebook posts are claiming that 18 million illegal immigrants received a government check this month, while federal workers remain unpaid amid the government shutdown.

We could not find any evidence that supports this figure, and multiple reports put the total number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. far lower than 18 million.

Moreover, illegal immigrants are barred from receiving most federal benefits, and primarily will benefit from food programs and Medicaid through their U.S.-born children.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

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Pants on Fire
"18 million illegal immigrants got their government checks this month" while federal workers remain unpaid.
In a Facebook post
Monday, January 21, 2019

Our Sources

Facebook post, Jan. 20, 2019

Facebook post, Jan. 21, 2019

PolitiFact, Fact-checking an immigration meme that's been circulating for more than a decade, July 5, 2018

PolitiFact, Trump says 'time has come' for law restricting federal assistance to immigrants. It already exists, June 27, 2017, Extent of Welfare Benefits Received on Behalf of U.S. Citizen Children, Nov. 19, 1997; Accessed Jan. 23, 2019

Center for Immigration Studies, Welfare Use by Legal and Illegal Immigrant Households, Sept. 9, 2015

Pew Research Center,  U.S. Unauthorized Immigrant Total Dips to Lowest Level in a Decade, Nov. 27, 2018

National Immigration Law Center, Overview of Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs, December 2015

Cato Institute, Immigration and the Welfare State: Immigrant and Native Use Rates and Benefit Levels for Means-Tested Welfare and Entitlement Programs, May 10, 2018

Phone interview, Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, Jan. 23, 2019

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No, 18 million illegal immigrants did not get a 'government check' this month

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