Some people believe that undocumented immigrants exploit our system and get loads of free benefits. It's not true.
There's a lot of confusion about immigration, which is understandable. It's a complex issue, with a lot of gray area. But there are many myths being perpetuated about undocumented immigrants that create an unnecessarily murky picture of the reality.
One of those myths is that people migrate to the U.S. and cross the border illegally so they can receive public benefits without contributing anything to our system. But that's not true.
Unauthorized immigrants make up 5% of the U.S. workforce, but account for more than a quarter of our agriculture workforce. Photo via David McNew/Getty Images.
An immigration lawyer set the record straight in a viral Facebook post.
Eric Pavri is an immigration lawyer and the director of Family Immigration Services at Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. Responding to people's comments and questions about illegal immigration, Pavri penned a detailed explanation of what undocumented immigrants can and cannot do within our system.
First, he explained how undocumented immigrants pay taxes without being able to tap into federal benefits.
Pavri explained that "only a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) can receive almost all types of public benefit — including Medicaid, Medicare, SSI disability, social security payments for seniors, TANF, and food stamps."
But undocumented immigrants still pay into the tax system that funds those benefits — even though they aren't eligible to receive them. "The irony: most undocumented immigrants work under made-up social security numbers," wrote Pavri, "and so receive a paycheck from which social security, federal income taxes, and state income taxes are withheld, and of course they pay the same local sales and property taxes as anyone else through retail purchases, pass-through costs of apartment leases, etc."
Photo via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
"But none of those employees," he continued, "despite paying IN to the system, will ever receive those public benefits listed above, that are paid for by the money withheld from their paychecks. So they are propping up our federal and state government entitlement programs because they pay in but won’t ever take out."
According to the nonprofit, nonpartian Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, undocumented workers pay nearly $12 billion in state and local taxes and pay a higher effective tax rate than America's top-earners do. And because they don't qualify for most benefits, that tax revenue is gravy for the government.
Then Pavri described the few benefits undocumented immigrants do receive. (Hint: They're good for the nation as a whole.)
Undocumented immigrants do receive a handful of "benefits" for what they contribute to the tax system. But they are either provided for the common good or out of basic human decency. Pavri wrote:
"The following are the public benefits that undocumented immigrants can receive in the United States:
1) Public education for children in grades K-12. This was definitively established by a 1982 Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe. The Supreme Court in its reasoning explicitly stated that it would not serve the overall public good of the U.S. to leave many thousands of children uneducated.
2) Emergency room services, but only to the point where the patient is considered “medically stable,” at which point he/she is released. These services are not free, however, as in my job I meet hundreds of immigrant families who sacrifice over years to slowly pay off high emergency room medical bills.
3) WIC assistance. This is for milk, food, etc, and available only to pregnant mothers. The rationale is that the children in the womb will be U.S. citizens when born, and therefore it is in the long-term economic best interests of the nation to ensure that they receive adequate prenatal nutrition to improve their chances of being productive citizens in the decades to come.
4) Assistance from police if they are the victim of a crime and call for help. To their credit, the vast majority of our Colorado Springs law enforcement officers take their duty to protect all people seriously. Chief Carey of the CSPD and Sheriff Elder of the EPCSO have made clear that their officers can’t do their most important job – keeping us safe by getting dangerous criminals off our streets – if a whole class of people (undocumented immigrants) is afraid to call 911 to report crimes that they witness or are victim to.
5) Assistance from a fire department. Rationale, besides the obvious moral one: If your house was next to that of an undocumented immigrant family, would you want the firefighters to let that house continue to burn, putting yours at risk of catching on fire too?
And that’s it. Those, to the best of my knowledge, are the only public benefits that an undocumented immigrant can receive in just about any part of the United States."
Pavri then expressed, as someone who works closely with this hardworking and economically challenged population, he wishes he could help them gain access to more of the benefits their taxes technically pay for.
Photo via Robyn Beck/Getty Images.
The notion that undocumented immigrants are coming here and stealing from our benefits system is simply false.
And it's not the only myth being perpetuated. President Donald Trump has repeatedly pushed rhetoric about illegal immigration and crime, going so far as to establish a hotline specifically to report crimes committed by suspected illegal immigrants and parading around victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants (and bizarrely autographing the dead victims' photographs, but that's another story).
Study after study shows that illegal immigration does not increase crime and there is no clear evidence that illegal immigrants are statistically more likely to commit more or worse crime than native-born Americans. (Simple logic would also dictate that people living some place illegally would try to avoid breaking the law so they wouldn't be deported.)
The facts simply don't support the idea that undocumented immigrants are a drain on the system or that they increase crime. While there may be legitimate arguments to be made for revamping our border policies, the arguments many people use for cracking down on illegal immigration simply don't hold up against the facts.