Can Illegal Immigrants Get Federal Benefits?

Can Illegal Immigrants Get Federal Benefits?

People often accuse “illegal immigrants” of taking up too much U.S. taxpayer money through federal benefits. It’s a fraught topic that raises people’s blood pressure and often results in family members getting blocked on Facebook. Get past the divisive rhetoric, however, and you’ll find the reality is more complex than people ranting on cable news.

It’s true that certain agencies allow “qualified” aliens to qualify for certain federal aid programs, like SSI, TANF or SNAP. (For example: Domestic violence victims may qualify for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP). However, nearly every anecdotal report involving illegal immigrants accessing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits each month is probably false.

Let’s take a closer look at this issue and separate the facts from fiction. After all, if you’re a voter, you deserve to know the truth about what’s really happening with your tax dollars.

Take a deep breath and keep reading…



Can Illegal Immigrants Receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants certain noncitizens in certain immigration categories the right to collect SSI. To qualify, that person must be blind or disabled and lawfully residing in the United States on August 22, 1996. Anyone lawfully admitted for permanent residence under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) with 40 U.S. work credits may also receive SSI.

Other noncitizens who may be eligible for SSI payments include:

  • Active duty members of the U.S. armed forces
  • Noncitizen members of federally recognized Indian tribes
  • Certain noncitizens admitted as Amerasian immigrants
  • Cuban/Haitian entrants admitted under the Refugee Education Assistance Act
  • Certain victims of severe human trafficking
  • Certain Iraqi or Afghan special immigrants who are admitted as lawful permanent residents

Some noncitizens can receive SSI for no more than seven years, depending on their status. However, the federal government never grants illegal immigrants monthly SSI benefits.

Can Illegal Immigrants Get Social Security or Access to Federal Health Programs?

Though many pay into the system, illegal immigrants are not eligible for Social Security retirement or disability payments. Despite undocumented immigrants contributing about $12 billion per year to the Social Security trust fund, most cannot access this money.

According to EconoFact.org, illegal immigrants also cannot access most federal health programs. These programs include non-emergency Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Medicare. In addition, illegal immigrants aren’t eligible for insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and prohibited from ACA-based insurance exchanges.

Can Illegal Immigrants Get WIC, Head Start, or Emergency Medicaid Benefits?

Some federal programs serve people in need, regardless of their immigration status. These programs include:

  • School meal programs (free or reduced-cost lunches)
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Head Start
  • Various in-kind emergency services

Illegal immigrants are also eligible for Emergency Medicaid, which generally covers acute medical situations (like childbirth) but not longer-term conditions. Benefits vary by state and cost less than 1% of the overall Medicaid budget. Undocumented immigrants are legally required to have access to K-12 public school. That said, undocumented immigrant children comprise about 1.3% of total public school enrollment in the United States. But because almost all K-12 educational funding comes from state and local governments, this technically isn’t a federal taxpayer-funded benefit.

As EconoFact.org explains, many undocumented immigrants have dependent children or spouses who are U.S. citizens. For this reason, households with one or more undocumented immigrant residents often do receive federally funded benefits. Some undocumented individuals may access SSI, for example, or food stamps and other benefits via their U.S.-born children. They may also access certain benefits through another household member who has Legal Permanent Resident or Refugee status. It’s important to note, however, that the total burden undocumented immigrants place on taxpayer-funded government programs is still incredibly small.

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