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Posts circulated by social media users make the claim that U.S. President Donald Trump has banned “welfare for illegal immigrants,” purportedly resulting in savings of $57.4 billion a year. This claim is false. Illegal immigrants were largely ineligible for federal public benefits prior to Trump’s presidency. The $57.4 billion figure likely stems from a report calculating annual aggregate costs of benefits for immigrants (both legal and illegal).
Examples of the claim are visible here and here .
Since 1882, a federal law has ordered immigration officials to refuse entry to non-citizens that were likely to become a “public charge.” ( here )
Generally, undocumented immigrants including DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals) holders are ineligible to receive federal public benefits like supplemental nutrition assistant program (SNAP), regular Medicaid, Social Security, healthcare subsidies, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), ( here , here ).
Since the enactment of the 1996 welfare reform laws, most lawfully residing immigrants were also “barred from receiving assistance under the major federal benefits programs for five years or longer,” according to the National Immigration Law Center ( here ).
These eligibility restrictions preceded Trump’s presidency. At a federal level, illegal immigrants are mostly only granted “welfare” in the form of emergency medical help and disaster relief funds. Undocumented children and teens can and must also attend public school ( here ).
Illegal immigrants in the U.S. may be eligible for emergency medical assistance under Medicaid and certain public health programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures ( ) A Reuters Fact Check debunking the claim that “illegals get all healthcare for free” is visible here .
Undocumented immigrants may also be eligible for “short-term, non-cash, emergency aid” provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and for disaster-relief cash assistance through state, local and voluntary programs ( ; here ). An unqualified individual can still apply to receive FEMA assistance if they are the parent of a child with a valid Social Security number, according to FEMA’s guidelines. These conditions were also enacted prior to the Trump administration ( ; here ).
The Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, states that 26 states and the District of Columbia provide some forms of state-only funding for immigrants including food assistance, healthcare, and aid to seniors and individuals with disabilities ( here ).
A 2013 report by the Social Security Administration found that unauthorized immigrants and their employers paid $13 billion in pay-roll taxes in 2010, despite having receiving less than $1 billion in redistributed benefits ( here ).
The $57.4 billion figure likely stems from a 2017 study entitled The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration by the National Academies ( here ), as previously reported in fact checks by USA Today and Politifact ( here , here ).
The report estimates the total annual aggregate economic impact of providing public benefits to first-generation immigrants and their dependents is $57.4 billion, averaged across 2011-2013. The study notes that these patterns are largely the result of education costs. Additionally, this report made use of data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, which according to Politifact did not allow researchers to differentiate between immigrants based on legal status. The posts on social media, however, attributed the savings from cuts to “illegal immigrants” only.
The claim including this number may stem from a Breitbart article that talks about possible savings a Trump reform could entail. However, Breitbart refers to “foreign nationals” and “legal and illegal immigrants”, not just illegal immigrants, as the posts claim. See here .
Breitbart was the only outlet Reuters could find linking the National Academies’ $54.7 billion figure to Trump’s immigration reform. Reuters coverage of Trump’s immigration reform referred to in the Breitbart article is visible here .
In 2019, the Trump administration itself estimated that its new proposed immigration restrictions would save $2.47 billion annually in spending on public benefits  ( here ).
The White House’s “public charge” rule, which is meant to make it harder for legal immigrants to apply for and receive green cards, was first formally proposed in September 2018 ( here ).
Last year, the Trump administration declared changes to immigration guidelines meant to “help ensure that non-citizens” would be “self-sufficient and not a strain on public resources.” (White House memo here ). On August 12, 2019 Trump expanded the scope and enforcement of the “public charge” criteria, part of a longstanding law, per the White House’s memo. This new rule effectively gave the government a greater ability to deny individuals visas or legal permanent residence in the U.S. ( )
Under Trump’s policy, immigration officers would consider factors such as age, educational level and English proficiency to decide whether an immigrant would likely become a “public charge” who would receive government benefits, such as the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor ( here ).
Trump’s rule has been challenged. In October 2019, a federal judge in New York, George Daniels, temporarily blocked Trump’s “public charge” rule. A split decision at the Supreme Court in January 2020 let the rule stand but also allowed for litigation to continue at a lower court, where Daniels again challenged it amidst the COVID-19 pandemic ( here ).
Any savings made by the enactment and enforcement of Trump’s “public charge rule” have not yet been quantified. Regardless, the claims on Facebook are false as this rule is targeted to legal immigrants and the $57.4 billion quoted in savings comes from a document indicating the aggregate yearly cost of legal and illegal immigrants combined.
False. Trump did not ban undocumented immigrants from receiving federal public benefits. Immigrants in the U.S. illegally are already generally ineligible.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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