No, illegal immigrants aren’t sucking the system dry

Day three of some wall talkin’ (the one that won’t work). So, we need that big ol’ Trump wall because illegal immigrants are sucking the system dry and leaving Americans footing the bill, right?

Not exactly. Or at least, it’s not the gigantic crisis demagogues like Donald Trump would have you believe.

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First, there is the charge that illegals don’t pay taxes. This is a myth. On the local and state levels they pay all the same rental, property, gas, and sales/consumption taxes we do. Further, according to the Social Security Administration, about 3.1 million working illegal immigrants (out of about 8 million working illegals total) pay into the Social Security system despite not being able to draw from it. Those taxes total $12 billion annually. (For the sake of clarity, circa 2010, the Heritage Foundation said that figure was about $7 billion when you discount employer contributions — but those figures should be included, because they are taxes being paid as a direct result of illegal workers). Not perfect, by any means, but vastly different than you’ve been led to believe.

In fact, illegal immigrants pay into the system in a myriad of ways without even getting into the idea that if they’re here, they are contributing to local economies through labor, purchasing, and more.

Unlike us, they don’t always get much for the taxes they pay, either. The Atlantic dove into the numbers and determined that for all the billions illegal immigrants put into Social Security, the vast majority will never see anything back from their contributions – so essentially, they help supplement the rest of us who WILL eventually draw from it. At best, the entitlements used by illegal immigrants are minimal. Even this anti-immigrant screed admits, “unlawful immigrants at present do not have access to means-tested welfare, Social Security, or Medicare.” More on that below.

None of this is to say that there isn’t a cost attached to illegal immigrants being here. There is. Where they do cost legal taxpayers is in education costs when their children attend public schools, and yes, that’s expensive (though again, if they are renting or own property, that means some of their dollars end up in the coffers of the local school system via property taxes, meaning they do pay into the education system) (and do we even need to point out that educating people is a net benefit to the country, whether or not the people are here on the books?)

Also, yes, illegal immigrants have access to the same infrastructure we all do — roads, bridges, police protection, and so on — and that infrastructure is indeed paid for by taxes. But first, much of that is funded via local taxes (property, sales, gas, state income) which generally are paid by illegal immigrants, save for state income taxes when it comes to a little more than half of undocumented workers, and when it comes to infrastructure that receives federal funding, here’s something to keep in mind: over 45% of Americans pay no federal income taxes. Yep, there’s close to a 50/50 chance that the person griping about illegals stealing their tax dollars aren’t paying into federal coffers, either.

All told, the amount that illegal immigrants pull from the system is inconclusive, despite what bogus memes and chain emails tell you. Estimates range wildly. According to a Congressional Budget Office report from 2009, “no agreement exists as to the size of, or even the best way of measuring, that cost on a national level.” Some numbers are very big, some are rather small. We just don’t know. And those estimates rarely look at what they put into the system. We know undocumented workers and their family pay a variety of taxes and contribute to their local economies. How the cost of the resources they use compares to the benefits we see from these workers in lower prices on consumer goods and services — they work for a lot less than you do — Social Security benefits that are never used, and more remains unclear. Again, we just don’t know.

But really it’s all about the jobs, right? This is about Americans in need of work – and there are a lot of them. Those illegals are taking our jobs, aren’t they?

Not exactly. Even though millions of Americans believe it, in a whopping 550-page report the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said, “We found little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term” from illegal immigrants coming here to work.

The truth is, immigrants (illegal or otherwise) and American citizens simply aren’t competing for the same jobs. In a detailed look at this idea, the Urban Institute reported:

Immigrants and native workers with low levels of education may be competing for different jobs and even could be complementing each other. Immigration status can constrain a worker’s job choices, but many immigrants are working different jobs from natives because they have limited English language or technical skills, or because they have insufficient exposure to the US workplace.


Some Americans are squeezed out of jobs in very specific circumstances, yes. However, because of the presence of these low-skill, low-wage workers, other jobs are created that Americans end up filling. This is not me saying it, it’s respected economists who have made their careers studying such issues. The National Journal reported in 2014:

That immigrants take the jobs of American-born citizens is “something that virtually no learned person believes in,” Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, said at a Thursday panel. “It’s sort of a silly thing.”

The situation isn’t perfect by any means, and there is unquestionably both a cost to having people here and millions of unskilled jobs being filled by them (often for wages staggeringly lower than any American would be willing to accept), but the idea that undocumented immigrants are draining the system and preventing Americans from working is largely a fear-driven lie, or at the very least a major exaggeration. Even the idea that they gobble up “entitlements” is a falsehood, as noted above. As a report circa 2014 pointed out, “Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and most other public benefits. Most of these programs require proof of legal immigration status and under the 1996 welfare law, even legal immigrants cannot receive these benefits until they have been in the United States for more than five years.”

(Note: a common rebuttal is that illegal immigrants cannot get these benefits, but their children can. If they are born here, that rebuttal is indeed accurate, their children can receive entitlement benefits … because those kids are American citizens.)

Do some slip through the cracks? Almost certainly. Bureaucracy is a huge, flawed thing. No doubt we can dig up some cases where someone got benefits they shouldn’t have — and no, I’m not saying that’s good or acceptable. But the same can be applied to EVERYONE, including legal citizens. Government is a big beast with lots of holes. You’re going to find instances of people taking advantage of that, both legal citizens and illegal.

By and large, though, the notion that illegals have destroyed the American workforce and drained all our benefits is a work of fiction that gives frustrated Americans someone to point the finger at while Washington continues to be a city full of self-interested cretins.

And that clearly didn’t change on January 20. The swamp still stinks. It’s packed full of the same CEOs and corporate stooges, and measures are already being pushed through to benefit Wall Street over regular people. Drained indeed …

“Sure, sure, sure,” you say, “it’s true that I’m not going to take a job picking berries for $2 an hour, and I guess it’s good that many of these taxes are actually being paid, but what about all the CRIME these illegals helping to bring in?”

Yeah, about that. Wait for tomorrow …



  1. Hank WirtzHank Wirtz

    It’s crazy…Most places won’t hire without an SSN provided. So the undocumented applicant gives a bogus one. Their FICA taxes get credited to the person who actually has that SSN. They contribute, but the “victim” of their ID theft is actually a beneficiary.

    1. Rautenberg

      Then how are those black market purchased Social Security number cooks and dishwashers at that restaurant I know getting a refund every year?

  2. Dan BowenDan Bowen

    The thing about economics, migratory patterns and their impacts over decades, taxation and its numerous invisible-to-the-non-rich gradations – these are all complex, multi-factorial systems that even the cleverest people with plenty of time on their hands can’t really be arsed to track in detail. So no wonder that thick people (and let’s be clear, voting for Trump was an admission of gross stupidity and xenophobia) are willing to take the word of a ‘straight talker’ who tells them to blame people who look and sound different to them. It’s the tragedy of stupidity that it can’t accept that truth is very often complex and paradoxical.

    1. Hank WirtzHank Wirtz

      Uh, yer words are too big. But I got this red hat. #MAGA

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