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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde April 24, 2020

Donald Trump didn’t ban welfare for immigrants illegally in the US

If Your Time is short

  • Long before Trump became president, immigrants living in the country illegally were generally ineligible for federal public benefits.

  • A study said first-generation immigrants and their dependents cost state and local governments $57.4 billion a year. That number isn't tied to federal costs or benefits. Most of that cost was for schooling.

  • A Trump administration rule made it more difficult for people to get visas or permanent-residency status if they received public assistance or were likely to need it.

President Donald Trump has been consistent and forceful in his argument that immigration represents a burden on the American taxpayer and the economy.

His administration has sought to crack down on illegal immigration and curtail legal immigration, most recently by ordering a 60-day halt on issuance of green cards to people outside the United States.

But a Facebook post crediting him with saving billions by denying welfare to "illegal immigrants" is inaccurate.

"President Trump has banned welfare for illegal immigrants which will save $57.4 billion a year," said the April 9 Facebook post. "Do you support Trump on this?? I damn sure do!!"

The post 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.)

There are several wrong premises with the post:

  • Immigrants living in the country illegally and those who arrive on non-immigrant visas (such as students and tourists) are generally not eligible for federal public benefits, even though some pay income taxes and contribute to Social Security. This was the case before Trump became president. 

  • The Trump administration issued a rule in August 2019 that broadened the government’s ability to deny visas and permanent-resident status to immigrants who get public benefits or those who may need assistance after their arrival. The rule targets people who are seeking legal admission and those who are here and applying for permanent residency.

  • The Facebook post doesn’t specify where the $57.4 billion figure comes from, but the post mirrors a headline on a Breitbart story. That story, however, was about legal immigration.

Here's a more detailed explanation of the inaccuracies.

Generally, immigrants living illegally in the United States are ineligible for federal public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly called food stamps), regular Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. These restrictions are not the result of Trump’s presidency.

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They may be eligible for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, Emergency Medicaid to cover emergency medical needs, and other emergency assistance, such as short-term non-cash, in-kind emergency disaster relief (which includes things like crisis counseling, shelter, food and water.)

For decades, even immigrants who came to the United States legally have been restricted from public assistance for a period. A 1996 law barred immigrants from federal "means tested" public benefits for five years. (There are some exemptions; this story has more details.)

Additionally, public-charge rules say that immigrants can be turned away if they are likely to depend on public-assistance programs; this type of restriction has been in place for more than 100 years. The Trump administration in August 2019 broadened the interpretation of these rules to make them stricter. But that did not ban welfare for immigrants here illegally.

Immigration experts told PolitiFact that under the new rule, immigration officials will be able to deny immigrants visas if they are deemed "more likely than not" to use public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or housing vouchers. Immigrants who are in the United States legally on temporary visas and have relied on such benefits in the past could also have more difficulty getting a green card. 

The Facebook post claimed that the purported ban would save Americans $57.4 billion a year. An August 2018 Breitbart headline said, "Trump’s welfare ban for immigrants would be $57.4B tax cut for Americans." The story centered on Trump’s plan for a public-charge rule and immigrants who would "resettle permanently" in the United States. That Breitbart story linked to a 2016 post on its website headlined, "National Academies: Immigrants cost state and local taxpayers $57.4 billion per year."

A study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimated that the annual fiscal cost of first-generation immigrants and their dependents, averaged across 2011-2013, was $57.4 billion. The figure referred to state and local expenses, not federal costs or benefits, and the main cost was education, said Francine D. Blau, a Cornell University economics professor who chaired the panel of researchers studying the economic and fiscal consequences of immigration.

"We find that much of this cost is related to the cost of educating both immigrant children and U.S. citizen children of immigrants (we attribute the entire cost of education to the parents of school age children)," Blau said via email. "The cost is smaller if we recognize the public-good aspect of education, that is, the broader social benefits in having a more educated populace."

The $57.4 billion also included costs of general public services such as police, fire, parks and recreation. It also did not apply only to immigrants in the country illegally. The study relied on data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, which did not allow researchers to differentiate between immigrants here legally and illegally, Blau said.

Our ruling

A Facebook post said, "President Trump has banned welfare for illegal immigrants which will save $57.4 billion a year."

Trump has not done that. Immigrants here illegally were already ineligible for most federal assistance programs. Trump’s administration issued a public-charge rule that would deny legal admission to people who are likely to depend on public benefits and which would make getting lawful permanent residency more difficult for people who are already in the country and used public assistance.

The source of the $57.4 billion figure is unclear. A study estimated a $57.4 billion annual cost to state and local governments for first generation immigrants and their dependents. Schooling costs accounted for the bulk of that cost.

The post is inaccurate. We rate it False.

Our Sources

Wayback Machine, archive of Facebook post

Email interview, Francine D. Blau, a Cornell University economics professor who chaired the panel of researchers studying the economic and fiscal consequences of immigration, April 23, 2020

FEMA.gov, Fact Sheet: Financial Disaster Aid Available for U.S. Citizens, Non-Citizen Nationals and Qualified Aliens, July 16, 2019

Breitbart, Trump’s welfare ban for immigrants would be $57.4B tax cut for Americans, Aug. 8, 2016; National Academies: Immigrants cost state and local taxpayers $57.4 billion per year, Sept. 21, 2016

State Department, Non-Immigrant visas

USCIS.gov, Public Charge, Last Reviewed/Updated March 27, 2020; Final Rule on Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility, Last Reviewed/Updated Feb. 24, 2020

PolitiFact, What’s new in Trump’s policy for legal immigrants on welfare, Aug. 15, 2019; Trump says 'time has come' for law restricting federal assistance to immigrants. It already exists, June 27, 2017; How much do undocumented immigrants pay in taxes?, Oct. 2, 2016; 

Clinton says undocumented immigrants pay $12 billion a year into Social Security, Aug. 10, 2016

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/23550.

National Immigraiton Forum, Fact Sheet: Immigrants and Public Benefits

WhiteHouse.gov, Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak, April 22, 2020

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Donald Trump didn’t ban welfare for immigrants illegally in the US

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