About Those “Illegals”

The Economic Policy Institute recently released a comprehensive report on immigration and the economy. The report was massive, and it included reams of information on both legal immigrants and the undocumented persons often labeled “Illegal.”

In one section of the report, researchers addressed a common accusation–that undocumented workers are a burden on government, and a net cost to taxpayers.

Unauthorized immigrants are a net positive for public budgets because they contribute more to the system than they take out. Unauthorized immigrants generally cannot receive benefits from government programs, except in some cases, such as when unauthorized immigrant children receive public education, and in some states that allow unauthorized immigrants to attend state colleges at in-state tuition rates. Nevertheless, most of these unauthorized immigrants will still pay taxes. The vast majority pay sales taxes in states with sales taxes, and property taxes through properties that they own or rent. Additionally, most unauthorized immigrant workers also pay payroll and income taxes. The Social Security Administration estimates that 75 percent of unauthorized immigrants are actually on formal payrolls, either using fraudulent Social Security numbers or Social Security numbers of the deceased. Unauthorized immigrants pay into Social Security via automatic payroll deductions, but they can never claim Social Security benefits. In 2005, it was estimated that unauthorized immigrants paid about $7 billion per year in Social Security taxes that they will never be able to reclaim.

Unauthorized immigrants are also unlikely to receive any income credits available through the tax code, or to receive a tax refund if they overpaid in their regular payroll withholdings. The Tax Policy Center estimates that 78 percent of American households that earned less than $33,000 owed no federal income taxes in 2011.19 Many low-income taxpayers only paid marginal amounts if they did owe. Because of their low income levels, most unauthorized immigrants would likely fall into either of these categories. A significant portion of unauthorized immigrants file taxes using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs); however, many unauthorized immigrants don’t file because they fear deportation. If they don’t file, they are never refunded money that was automatically withheld from their paychecks.

The research also addressed another common belief: that unauthorized immigrants use (abuse?) public support programs like welfare, unemployment insurance, and food stamps. The data suggests otherwise.

While it is possible that an unauthorized immigrant could benefit from a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident family member receiving income support through a federal or state program, unauthorized immigrants themselves by and large are ineligible for such programs because of their immigration status.

In response to the repeated demands of our contemporary Nativists that we just deport the 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants, the report noted:

Aside from the astronomical costs it would impose and the fact that it’s likely to be a logistical impossibility, it would actually hurt, not help, the economy and the jobs situation…while unauthorized immigrant workers add to the supply of labor, they also consume goods and services, thereby generating economic activity and creating jobs. One way to think of this is to remember that the labor force is growing all the time due to both immigration and native-born population growth, and that’s okay, because the economy expands too. We all understand this intuitively; that’s why we don’t worry when a new graduate enters the labor force. We know those new graduates buy food and cars and clothes and pay rent. By the same token, unauthorized immigrants are not just workers, they are also consumers. We could remove them, which would indeed reduce the number of workers, but it would also reduce the jobs created by the economic activity they generate. So the right choice is to bring the unauthorized immigrants who are already here out of the shadows so they can help the country realize its economic potential.

Finally, the report also addressed the influx of unaccompanied children from Central America:

Tens of thousands of migrant children (or minors) from Mexico and Central America arrive at the Southwest border every year without a parent or guardian, but more recently, they have been arriving in increasing numbers from the Northern Triangle of Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras… some of the principal reasons for their arrival are violence and criminality in their home countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have some of the highest homicide rates in the world), including being forced to join criminal gangs under threat of violence or death; false rumors that children will receive some sort of legal status if they show up on the border and turn themselves in to immigration authorities; and the desire to reunite with family members living in the United States.

(What the dry language of a research report fails to note is that these are children–frightened, alone and desperate for safety, and that the vitriol with which they are being met is shameful, and should be a national embarrassment.)

Those of us who have a forlorn attachment to hard evidence and documented facts can continue to hope that eventually, reality will inform policy.



  1. Whether you call them undocumented or illegal; they are breaking the law by being here. I have to take issue with the fact that most of them only learn enough English to understand our monetary system; they also send earnings to families in their home countries so what they earn is not going back into our economy. The jobs they are willing to do for lower pay are taken, not only from Americans, but from legal immigrants who deserve their chance at making a living. How much more does everything cost today due to multliple languages on everything from food to instruction books for products. I strongly believe in maintaining one’s culture and heritage but not when they ignore learning our laws and values and becoming a part of the community. There are groups in this city of Italian/Americans, German/Americans, Hispanic/Americans, etc. I have attempted to be neighborly with Hispanics in my neighborhood and they are not interested and no way we can communicate. Sad to say I have gotten the same reaction from Blacks. We should not be forced to learn foreign languages to fit in with them; however, I have always believed that one foreign language should be required in our schools simply because of the diverse makeup of this country

    After the damaging hail storm in 2006; all homes in my area needed new roofs, gutters and siding. I attempted to find a roofer by speaking to the crews working around my home but none of them spoke English. I finally found two English speaking crews weeks after I had hired a contractor – who had a Mexican roofing crew. I also noticed that their license plates were from Texas to Connecticut and everywhere in between. Evidently there are no qualified roofers in the state of Indiana. I was told by someone attempting to deal with an illegal situation that it takes a minimum of 3 years costs approximately $10,000 – no wonder they stay illegal.

  2. Sheila: Attached is text copied from Senator Dan Coats’ most recent “newsletter”. Maybe you should send him some factual information and see if you can enlighten him. Or maybe he just wouldn’t be interested in facts?

    “Policies put in place by the Obama Administration are responsible for the urgent, growing and heartbreaking crisis on our nation’s southern border.

    For five and a half years, the president has gone around Congress to ignore, defy and alter laws in a variety of areas, from Obamacare implementation to issuing excessive new labor and environmental rules to infringing on religious freedom. It is no different with immigration policy, where President Obama has unilaterally deferred enforcement of U.S. immigration laws for many currently here illegally.

    His actions have encouraged many in Central America to risk their lives, or the lives of their loved ones, to enter the United States illegally under the false belief that they will be forgiven or granted outright amnesty.

    It is largely this assumption, more than recent spikes in crime, that is responsible for the sudden surge of 60,000 unaccompanied Guatemalan, Honduran and El Salvadorian children who have been apprehended on America’s southern border since last October. An additional 60,000 family members – one or both parents traveling with their children – also have been apprehended during this period.

    This situation does not simply affect border states. The administration recently announced they have sent hundreds of unaccompanied alien children to Indiana communities, with more expected.

    As if President Obama’s previous actions have not done enough harm, he has threatened to “fix” the crisis he helped create.”

  3. Did the report that you reference also include the costs of providing medical care to illegal immigrants? In northern Indiana they have quite a negative financial impact on health care providers – especially hospitals. With no health insurance or money to pay for expensive health care that cannot legally be denied, the cost is transferred to others. There is a huge amount of “free” health care provided to illegal immigrants here.

  4. Carl; for many years Americans have done the same thing regarding medical care. They have vehicles, big screen TVs, electronic gadgets to use on the TVs, DVD or Blue Ray and stacks of movies, they order food delivery or pick up take out, have new phone that do everything when they come out but take their children and themselves to the nearest ER for treatment for common colds, flu, ear infections, etc. When you ask why they don’t have a doctor or health care, they will tell you they don’t have the money. Of course they don’t have the money. We who do pay have also paid for their medical care for decades.

  5. Thank you for alerting us to this report, which you mention is quite long. I wonder if, having read it, you might want to reference information from the report in reply to negative comments here that seem, on the surface, to be justified.

  6. If they are illegal they should go back and join the line. I was in Russia a few years ago and I was besieged by people who wanted help emigrating to the USA. Same in Romania and a dozen other countries east of the Oder. If those countries shared a border with the US we would have an additional 10 million illegals. At the time I was married to a Russian and we went through the process step by step. Secondly, 12 million in such a short period of time caused many problems, only a few of which are shown on the pages of the Journal-Gazette each Sunday when they picture the “Most Wanted” and name the felons in a three column list. Once, those names were overwhelmingly blacks, now they are about even with those from south of the border. One of my properties was burned down by a Latino who had stolen a car and rammed, inadvertently, the front wall. Fire. He was 15. They should chose the legal route and we should send back those who essentially are invaders who expect us to pay a variety of expenses to help them establish here. Oh, and there are the Chamber of Commerce Republicans who like the invasion because they can 1) hire cheap drywallers and 2) cheat them on wages because they have no recourse. IPFW here was caught in that sort of thing, although their’s was more the blind eye turned away from low-wage, out-of-town contractors. Local labor called them out publicly which may be part of the reason the contractors and their local elected Republican friends are trying so hard to kill the unions…

  7. Unfortunately we cannot lay the entire blame of “Free” healthcare at the doorstep of illegal immigrants. Let’s not forget that we have a multitude of American Citizens that are also getting “Free” healthcare (because they are either ineligible for coverage or cannot afford it) Next time you see Governor Pence, thank him for contribution to this situation.

  8. For those who are not sure of the Pence connection …

    24 states have refused to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act.

  9. Many of the comments posted here seem to have missed the point of your article. I fear that many Americans have no compassion for those seeking safety and opportunity. Luckily for them, their ancestors were somehow allowed to enter this country and receive its many benefits.

  10. Mary Kay; my ancestors came here approximately 200 years ago LEGALLY, became citizens and contributed to their communities in many areas and on many issues. They also learned the English language but remained fluent in their native German language, traditions and – thankfully – their wonderful recipes:) My great-great-grandfather, great-grandfather and great-uncles fought for the Union during the Civil War, my grandfather was in WW I, my father and uncles worked in defense plants during WW II. They worked hard, raised their families without welfare, public assistance or free health care. They were union members working to better things for all workers. They helped one another and neighbors when needed. Their tax dollars supported those who needed public assistance and health care; my children and I do the same. We are proud to have three biracial children and one Mexican-American in our family lineage.

    This is a different country today; we are overburdened and expected to add more and more to our burdens while costs of everything skyrockets but salaries are too often not a liveable wage for some families. These families are also supporting the illegal immigrants while trying to feed, clothe, educate and provide health care for their own children. We haven’t missed the point; millions of the illegals ignore the point and somehow believe they deserve all that Americans provide for them. If the government would deport the known illegals in our jails and prisons, it would be a good start and a great savings of our tax dollars. I am NOT telling anyone to ignore the children being sent here by their families and their country for us to take care of. The money saved by deporting the criminals would aid in caring for these children. There is something vastly wrong with the current system which makes it too expensive for those who want to become American citizens – this is being ignored by the government and taken advantage of by the adult illegals.

  11. Illegals are here for one reason only. Our businesses employ them. Businesses get many of the financial advantages of sending jobs overseas with few of the expenses. Businesses used to actively encourage them over the border but no longer have to.

    The report that Sheila references recognizes the economic reality that many businesses have for decades. Foreign labor attracted here is good for business. It’s only bad for us taxpayers. Privatized profits, socialized risks.

    Blaming government for not spending our money on securing thousands of miles of remote border is pure business BS. If it were possible, the combination of starving people and greedy businesses would find other “solutions”.

    Things will get worse from here.

    One reality of AGW is that it will turn the tropics into a place inhospitable for human life. If we find ways to adapt our agriculture to the changed climate here, a massively expensive adaptation, we will become the Mecca for millions of those from the tropics trying to escape the reality of the earth culling the too many people to support, as we figure out agriculture suitable for our new climate.

    People don’t go quietly into that goodnight.

    Of course the human race could figure out ways to reduce all of this trauma but evidence supports that we are just not smart enough to cooperate.

    An extremely expensive shortcoming.

  12. These comments worry me.

    My spouse is an immigrant of the legal kind. We had to wait for 2 yrs (after getting married) before we could even apply for his green card. If you apply before that, the costs are higher and there is suspicion. (Our immigration process is badly broken because thousands of people before us committed fraud so now you have to PROVE your marriage is valid). Green card fees were close to 500 bucks and you can’t work in this country without one (or a work Visa). We lived abroad at the time. We had to wait for the Interpol and the background check which was another 500 bucks. He had to list addresses he lived since the age of 16 (he was in his 40s) and get police reports from every city or country he lived in which was another expense. It took 5 months to complete the green card process and they seized his native birth passport until he was approved.

    After living in this country for 3 yrs, we applied for his citizenship and that took another 500 bucks and a couple of months of waiting. Background checks were done again and to see if we were criminals.We had to supply our marriages license (we were married in Indiana). We had to supply photographs of the wedding, our life together, our tenant agreement, employment contract, swear an oath to not take welfare, apply for food stamps or other community programs (which could have been denied anyway) and share our banking and savings accounts, 401k accounts, and property values etc. When my husband went for the pre-green card physical, he had to have xrays for TB, blood work for HIV, give urine, take countless vaccinations (all at once) and the doctor even verified that my husband was a male. You know exactly what I mean by that. It was humiliating (and he’s scarred for life). He was also fingerprinted and had to have photos of him, but not smiling. Smiling and glasses are not allowed.

    Prior to this, when I moved abroad to be with my spouse, we showed our marriage license, his employment contract, our apt lease and I was accepted without fee (except for the photo on the ID) and welcomed to Europe as the spouse of a European. They had our address so if anything bad happened, they knew how to find me. I carried a national ID card with me. You have 30 days to notify the state/country whenever you move and some utility companies will not turn on your power, water, etc until you register, so you do it immediately. That was unique to the country we lived.

    Tell me our system is better? All told, we paid at least 2,000 dollars for the LEGAL process of immigration and many many months of uncertainty. It’s stressful to have your life on hold for months without end and at the first traffic stop or speeding ticket, you could be deported. Yeah, that was a blast.

    I want all humans to have a chance to live in this country if they choose but Americans don’t seem to realize that very few want to come here. Most of the Europeans think we’re bat shit crazy with our politics and war mongering. No one and I mean NO ONE in Europe that I spoke to liked Bush. They all considered him a war criminal. Seriously, middle class families abroad are very happy with their lives. The only ones that seem to want to come to this country are freaking desperate or are married to Americans. You know, those people that are hopeless, hungry, tired and oh yeah, just plain ole humans looking for a break.

    These comments against them really sadden me. America was built by immigrants and I’m so happy that when my grandparents came to this country about 100 yrs ago, there weren’t armed and dangerous Americans shouting at them to go back home. Shame!

  13. 200 years ago there were no immigration quotas and the door was open for anyone who could pay the passage or were forced to come. Remember that many of our earliest immigrants were indentured or convicts, as well as slaves. Also, remember that the United States has been xenophobic for nearly the same length of time. Whatever group that was entering in large numbers was demonized and depicted as taking jobs away, lazy, dirty, ignorant, didn’t speak English, etc., you name the negative and it applied. Of course, the majority Anglo-Europeans, as well as the assimilated, used that cheap, ignorant, dirty, lazy pool of labor to their own economic advantage. Ethnic neighborhoods in large cities are notoriously closed to outsiders, often with good reason. If you took all of “those people” out of the equation, who would do the jobs they do for the wages they are paid? Ask the farmers in Alabama who had crops rot in the fields because they could not find locals to fill the void after immigration laws were tightened (also found generally unconstitutional). And even if immigrants send money back home, they still buy goods and services that are taxed, have deductions taken from paychecks that will never be returned. Read the report.
    Funny how Americans love freedom, but only for themselves. All those immigration controls have been made law to insure that those in power stay that way.

  14. My family’s ancestors were brought here on ships from Africa. They were brought here because they were cheap, almost free, labor, also, they were free sex partners for slave owners. It’s important to understand that businesses have always wanted inexpensive labor that citizens did not want to do. Nothing has changed, except that the immigrants now are overworked and get to keep the tiny wages they make. Agricultural, domestics, gardeners, and service workers would disappear without the people who come in, resulting in substantially higher costs to everyone else. In addition, if one actually reads what’s written here instead of spewing xenophobic ignorance, they would understand that there is a new positive for the economy.

  15. There is, of course, another service provided by illegals. They provide a convenient diversion for politicians who find it necessary to avoid solving real problems. We are down to one seemingly functional branch of government. If we, the people focused on that, solutions at the polls would be forthcoming. So, those who don’t know how to govern divert attention to non-issues in the hope that we are stupid enough to fall for it.

    It would appear that perhaps we are.

  16. I stopped after reading that illegal aliens don’t consume education. Apparently the author thinks that our country benefits from having illiterate citizens. (Please don’t say we should educate them; that contradicts the terms of the argument made.)

    There is such mass propaganda for illegal aliens, not for humanitarian reasons (even Obama is willing to send back _children_), but to provide cheap agricultural labor and to expand the industrial reserve army.

  17. Barbaric is the word that Europeans use to describe our profit based healthcare. Immoral is the other.
    And they cannot imagine not having at least a month of vacation every year.

  18. Not sure that I understand “There is such mass propaganda for illegal aliens”. By who and for what purpose?

    It seems like “to provide cheap agricultural labor and to expand the industrial reserve army” implies that business is the beneficiary. Are you (Stephen) saying that business sponsors media propaganda supportive of illegals as a portion of our population?

    It may well be but I can’t think of a specific example. My experience is that business is typically silent about their participation in attracting illegals here.
    However they relish the idea that government is incompetent and therefore should stay out of business and let them have way with us as it’s good for record wealth redistribution.

    The perfect storm. Record profits and bonuses and the middle class mostly stuck with the tax bill and government portrayable as the bad guy.

  19. Aging little girl. My European industrial experience suggests that they work and play more diligently then do we. Their time off is sacred personal and family time and their time at work is very productive.

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