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Fact-checking claim about immigrants, eligibility for assistance programs
If Your Time is short
Most immigrants living illegally in the country are not eligible for benefits from federal programs. A valid Social Security number is needed to receive most federal benefits. Immigrants in the country illegally are not issued Social Security numbers.
They may qualify for state and local public assistance programs.
Some immigrants illegally in the country also pay taxes, and that helps cover the costs of assistance programs.
Ahead of the tax filing season, a Facebook post sarcastically told taxpayers to file on time because immigrants illegally in the country "are counting on you."
"Monday, tax season starts…" the Jan. 23 post said. "So, please be mindful to file your taxes timely. Remember, 4.3 million of ILLEGALS are counting on you! We need to make sure they receive: Free housing, free medical, free state identification, free college, free daycare, free social security, free EBT cards, free month (sic) checks."
It continued: "If this doesn’t piss you off as a taxpayer and an American citizen? Then I don’t know what to tell you. All these things AREN’T government funded.... IT (sic) FUNDED BY YOU! THE TAXPAYERS!"
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.)
Overall, we found that immigrants in the country illegally are ineligible to receive most of the benefits mentioned in the post. They are eligible for emergency medical care, and some women and children may qualify for food assistance.
U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents aren’t the only ones covering the costs of those programs, either. Some immigrants living in the country illegally pay taxes. Estimates vary, but research indicates that immigrants in the country illegally pay billions in federal, state and local taxes each year.
Generally, immigrants illegally in the country are ineligible to receive benefits from most federal programs. But they may be eligible for assistance deemed necessary to protect life or guarantee safety in dire situations, such as access to treatment in hospital emergency rooms and to health care and nutrition programs.
Let’s take a closer look at their eligibility for the specific benefits mentioned in the post. Our findings come from a variety of sources, including the National Immigration Forum, the National Immigrant Law Center and federal agencies.
"Free housing." Typically ineligible for federal Department of Housing and Urban Development housing programs. To qualify for public housing or HUD-subsidized housing, a person "must be a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen with an eligible immigration status," an agency spokesperson said. An immigrant who was a trafficking victim is an example of someone with an eligible immigration status who may qualify for a housing program. (A 2000 law made victims of trafficking eligible for benefits and services under any federal or state program.)
"Free medical." Eligible for emergency Medicaid, if they are eligible for their state’s Medicaid program. Medicaid will cover the treatment of an emergency medical condition, including labor and delivery.
"Free state identification." It is unclear if any states specifically allow immigrants living in the country illegally to get state IDs for free. Some states waive ID fees for certain groups of people, including seniors and people with low income. Some states allow immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.
"Free college." We found no evidence of free college specifically for this group. Washington D.C. and 17 states offer in-state tuition to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, and some offer state financial aid.
"Free daycare." Ineligible in most cases. Victims of trafficking who are in the U.S. illegally may qualify for benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. In some cases, funds from that program can be used to pay for childcare.
"Free Social Security." Generally, ineligible to receive social security benefits.Federal law requires that a person be a U.S. citizen or meet applicable immigration status rules to receive benefits under the programs for retirement, disability, survivors of eligible workers, Supplemental Security Income, or Medicare, a spokesperson for the Social Security Administration said.
"Free EBT cards." Electronic Benefit Transfer cards’ most well-known use is for buying food, under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Immigrants illegally in the country are not eligible for the federal SNAP benefits. There is another federal food assistance program for which states can set eligibility requirements, and immigrants illegally in the country could apply for that assistance. That program is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly called WIC. Many state agencies have started issuing WIC benefits via EBT cards, said a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Free month (sic) checks." It is unclear exactly what this refers to, but immigrants in the U.S. illegally are not eligible for cash payments or federal unemployment benefits.
The federal government sets "strict residency requirements for federal welfare programs," said Andrew Lim, director of research for the American Immigration Council, a non-profit group that advocates for immigrants.
"There are some instances where undocumented parents of U.S.-born children may benefit from aid that their children are eligible for, but this is never in their own right, only through their children," Lim said.
Lim also said that there are "innumerable individual immigration situations, so it is hard to be absolute in saying that there are absolutely zero undocumented immigrants accessing federal aid."
But a valid Social Security number is needed for nearly all federal benefits, and usually immigrants are not issued one if they are in the country illegally, he said.
Eligibility is also different for state and local welfare and public assistance programs, Lim said. Some programs "may be immigration status-blind" or have different eligibility criteria from the federal government, which would allow immigrants in the country illegally to access some state-funded assistance.
Immigrants living in the U.S. illegally would not generally be considered eligible for the things listed in the Facebook post "as far as the federal government is concerned, but they may be eligible at a state-level," Lim said.
Immigrants who emigrated to the U.S. legally are also generally ineligible for assistance until they’ve been a legal resident for at least five years.
A Facebook post claimed American taxpayer dollars provide "free housing, free medical, free state identification, free college, free daycare, free Social Security, free EBT cards, free month (sic) checks" to immigrants in the country illegally.
In some instances, adults may benefit from assistance granted to their U.S.-born children who meet citizenship requirements. Also, states can set eligibility rules requirements for some programs, which may allow immigrants in the country illegally to apply for that assistance.
However, the post makes a sweeping generalization, and immigrants illegally in the country are typically not eligible to receive federal public benefits. The post also gives the impression that only U.S. citizens and others here legally pay taxes. It ignores that some immigrants living in the country illegally also pay taxes.
We rate this claim False.
Facebook post, Jan. 23, 2022
USA Today, "Tax season 2022: IRS now accepting tax returns. What to know about your refund before filing taxes," Jan. 24, 2022
Email interview with Andrew Lim, director of research for the American Immigration Council, Jan. 25, 2022
National Immigration Forum, "Fact Sheet: Immigrants and Public Benefits," Aug. 21, 2018
National Immigration Forum, "About the Forum," accessed Jan. 24, 2022
Bipartisan Policy Center, "Immigrants and Public Benefits: What Does the Research Say?" November 2018
National Immigration Law Center, "Overview of Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs," October 2021
National Immigration Law Center, "Excerpt from: Guide to Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs Tables," October 2021
National Immigration Law Center, "Guide to Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs UPDATE PAGE," accessed Jan. 25, 2022
The Pew Charitable Trusts, "Mapping Public Benefits for Immigrants in the States," Sept. 24, 2014
Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, "Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions," Mach 1, 2017
New American Economy, "Immigrants and the economy in: United States of America," accessed Jan. 25, 2022
Social Security Administration, "Effects Of Unauthorized Immigration On The Actuarial Status Of The Social Security Trust Funds," April 2013
Vox, "Trump says undocumented immigrants burden the safety net. He’s wrong," Feb. 6, 2019
Vox, "Undocumented immigrants pay taxes too. Here's how they do it," April 17, 2017
Udall Center of Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona, "Immigrants in Arizona: fiscal and economic impacts," June 2008
Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, Florida International University, "Immigrants In Florida: Characteristics and Contributions," May 2007
Cornell University, "Undocumented immigrants pay more taxes than President Trump," Sept. 28, 2020
USA Today, "Fact check: Immigrants in US illegally aren't eligible for federal welfare; Trump did not ban it," July 17, 2020
The Center for Law and Social Policy, "Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Child Care and Early Education Programs," April 2017
The National Conference of State Legislatures, "Tuition Benefits for Immigrants," March 1, 2021
PolitiFact "Trump says 'time has come' for law restricting federal assistance to immigrants. It already exists," June 27, 2017
U.S. Food and Nutrition Service, "What is Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)?" acccessed Jan. 26, 2022
Social Security Adminsitration, "Spotlight on SSI Benefits for Noncitizen," accessed Jan. 26, 2022
Congressional Research Service, "Noncitizen Eligibility for Federal Housing Programs," July 23, 2020
South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, "Frequently Asked Questions about Immigrants and Government Benefits," July 2012
The National Conference of State Legislatures, "States Offering Driver’s Licenses to Immigrants," Aug. 9, 2021
The Philadelphia Inquirer, "Other states give IDs to residents for free. Could it happen here?" Sept. 25, 2018
Benefits.gov, "Learn the Difference Between SNAP and WIC Programs," Dec. 18, 2021
Email exchange with Darren Lutz, Social Security Administration press office, Jan. 28, 2022
Email interview with a spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, Jan. 28, 2022
Email exchange with a spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jan. 28, 2022
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