It is still common to hear certain people state (as if it were an irrefutable fact) that undocumented immigrants
abuse the system, and that they, like parasites, consume taxpayer money by taking advantage of social services. How true is this?
Let’s go in parts. First, it should be clarified that undocumented people, try as they may, cannot access most public assistance programs, such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps), Medicare, or Medicaid. The only two services that they can access without major restrictions are admission to hospital emergency rooms and public schools.
Regarding access to hospital emergency rooms, this is actually a public safety issue. For example, it benefits us all for a person with a contagious disease to receive timely medical attention. In other cases, it could be about life-and-death issues.
Regarding access to public schools, according to the Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe, all children, regardless of immigration status, have access to a public education and are eligible to attend public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. This is not considered an assistance program; it is a basic human right.
With this clarified, it is important to emphasize that multiple economic studies affirm the following: both documented and undocumented immigrants pay more than they consume in public assistance programs.
According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants contribute an estimated 11.74 billion to state and local economies each year. However, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for many of the federal or state benefits that their tax dollars help fund.
A report from the National Immigration Forum shows that legal immigrants who have access to federal public assistance programs use them at lower rates than those born in the United States.
Let’s look at the case of SNAP (also known as food stamps). In , 32.5 of native-born citizen adults received these benefits, compared to 25.4 of naturalized citizen adults and 29 of non-citizen adults.
To be fair, we cannot deny the existence of immigrants who manage to abuse these programs. This is totally reprehensible and dangerous and can have serious legal consequences. However, these losses for the government coffers are miniscule compared to the economic impact generated by the real abusers of the system.
According to a study by the organization Citizens for Tax Justice, thanks to the use of legal loopholes, many of the most profitable companies in the United States paid little or almost no federal income taxes between and . Moreover, take corporations such as General Electric, Pepco, and Duke Energy– not only did they pay almost no taxes from to , some of them received federal tax refunds.
This is not illegal, but it is immoral. A report by the Institute for Policy Studies states that many of the tax cuts that large corporations receive are used to increase the salaries of top executives, not to generate new jobs. Where is the indignation from those who condemn the abuse of the system?