How Much Does Illegal Immigration Cost You?

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Executive Summary

Unlawful immigration and amnesty for current unlawful immigrants can pose large fiscal costs for U.S. taxpayers. Government provides four types of benefits and services that are relevant to this issue:

  • Direct benefits. These include Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation.
  • Means-tested welfare benefits. There are over 80 of these programs which, at a cost of nearly $900 billion per year, provide cash, food, housing, medical, and other services to roughly 100 million low-income Americans. Major programs include Medicaid, food stamps, the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, public housing, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
  • Public education. At a cost of $12,300 per pupil per year, these services are largely free or heavily subsidized for low-income parents.
  • Population-based services. Police, fire, highways, parks, and similar services, as the National Academy of Sciences determined in its study of the fiscal costs of immigration, generally have to expand as new immigrants enter a community; someone has to bear the cost of that expansion.

The cost of these governmental services is far larger than many people imagine. For example, in 2010, the average U.S. household received $31,584 in government benefits and services in these four categories.

The governmental system is highly redistributive. Well-educated households tend to be net tax contributors: The taxes they pay exceed the direct and means-tested benefits, education, and population-based services they receive. For example, in 2010, in the whole U.S. population, households with college-educated heads, on average, received $24,839 in government benefits while paying $54,089 in taxes. The average college-educated household thus generated a fiscal surplus of $29,250 that government used to finance benefits for other households.

Other households are net tax consumers: The benefits they receive exceed the taxes they pay. These households generate a “fiscal deficit” that must be financed by taxes from other households or by government borrowing. For example, in 2010, in the U.S. population as a whole, households headed by persons without a high school degree, on average, received $46,582 in government benefits while paying only $11,469 in taxes. This generated an average fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of $35,113.

The high deficits of poorly educated households are important in the amnesty debate because the typical unlawful immigrant has only a 10th-grade education. Half of unlawful immigrant households are headed by an individual with less than a high school degree, and another 25 percent of household heads have only a high school degree.

Some argue that the deficit figures for poorly educated households in the general population are not relevant for immigrants. Many believe, for example, that lawful immigrants use little welfare. In reality, lawful immigrant households receive significantly more welfare, on average, than U.S.-born households. Overall, the fiscal deficits or surpluses for lawful immigrant households are the same as or higher than those for U.S.-born households with the same education level. Poorly educated households, whether immigrant or U.S.-born, receive far more in government benefits than they pay in taxes.

In contrast to lawful immigrants, unlawful immigrants at present do not have access to means-tested welfare, Social Security, or Medicare. This does not mean, however, that they do not receive government benefits and services. Children in unlawful immigrant households receive heavily subsidized public education. Many unlawful immigrants have U.S.-born children; these children are currently eligible for the full range of government welfare and medical benefits. And, of course, when unlawful immigrants live in a community, they use roads, parks, sewers, police, and fire protection; these services must expand to cover the added population or there will be “congestion” effects that lead to a decline in service quality.

In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes. This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household. This cost had to be borne by U.S. taxpayers. Amnesty would provide unlawful households with access to over 80 means-tested welfare programs, Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare. The fiscal deficit for each household would soar.

If enacted, amnesty would be implemented in phases. During the first or interim phase (which is likely to last 13 years), unlawful immigrants would be given lawful status but would be denied access to means-tested welfare and Obamacare. Most analysts assume that roughly half of unlawful immigrants work “off the books” and therefore do not pay income or FICA taxes. During the interim phase, these “off the books” workers would have a strong incentive to move to “on the books” employment. In addition, their wages would likely go up as they sought jobs in a more open environment. As a result, during the interim period, tax payments would rise and the average fiscal deficit among former unlawful immigrant households would fall.

After 13 years, unlawful immigrants would become eligible for means-tested welfare and Obamacare. At that point or shortly thereafter, former unlawful immigrant households would likely begin to receive government benefits at the same rate as lawful immigrant households of the same education level. As a result, government spending and fiscal deficits would increase dramatically.

The final phase of amnesty is retirement. Unlawful immigrants are not currently eligible for Social Security and Medicare, but under amnesty they would become so. The cost of this change would be very large indeed.





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214 Comments on "How Much Does Illegal Immigration Cost You?"

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John Smith
15 hours 16 minutes ago
Until 1964 when congress let it expire, we had the bracero law. They would come to the States for the harvest or what have you, pay taxes and return to Mexico when the season was over. When congress didn’t renew the law and immigration wouldn’t let these people come back, their employers told them, if you find a way to come across the border, you’ll have your job waiting for you here. And they found a way. However, as the time passed by, it became harder and harder to sneak across. Confronted with the reality that now they had to be away from their families for much longer periods of time, they decided to bring their families to the States to stay with them. After a few years, we were flooded with people from south of the border who didn’t pay taxes and whose children we had to school them.… Read more »
Eagle Eye
7 days 8 hours ago

I have noticed, since AMAC started this new conversation thread…if you read the comments, some posted responses are a few hours old to 4-6 months ago. Old news…re-hashed or recycled! What gives AMAC?

Paul Revere
6 days 13 hours ago

Ahh so, Eagle Eye; nevertheless, a conversation still worth having! Whether seen from an eagle’s lofty perch or as a grunt at ground level, this subject is too important to ignore no matter how long it takes to debate! 🐣

Marla Esposito
7 days 11 hours ago

Just wanted to comment: no matter how generous a person is.. or a Nation… at some point… it will all IMPLODE when you have only 1/2 or less of the population “giving”….. and the other 1/2 “taking”…… 50+ yrs ago… immigrants came in from Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia ect with STRONG skills and a work ethic. They came from oppression and GAVE hugely back to our society. My jeweler is from Japan – amazing work… my cobbler is from Yugoslavia – has performed miracles with my shoes….. I’m not against immigrants coming into US.. it’s those that come to TAKE….. rather than to GIVE……I’m very excited for the election… Donald Trump is going to win by a landslide…… he is God’s man for the hour and he will “make America great” again….

Paul Revere
6 days 15 hours ago

Marla: I couldn’t agree with you more about all those hard working European immigrants, such as my grandparents. They came to America looking for opportunity not handouts. Frankly, they were to proud & honorable to accept anything they didn’t work for. They first spoke Italian, then learned English & passionately wanted to be Americans. Oh, how things have radically changed today. As for Trump, the election is his to lose. I wish I had your confidence in his electoral victory; but every time he opens his mouth I cringe, although he is improving at seeming Presidential. I hope it”s not too little, too late!

Jay Dee
6 days 11 hours ago

Paul: I share you experience with parents who immigrated from Italy. The only thing that appears to be making Trump seem more presidintial is the text he is reading from the Alt Right. There is more than one way to abuse the system and Trump has a handle on it. “Cringe” is putting it mildly when he opens his mouth. There are town council people who know more about the workings of government than this insulting narcisist.

Charles Ring
7 days 13 hours ago

If these illegals were on green cards would they still be able to get those perks?

J. Liebsch
7 days 14 hours ago

I was surprised you didn’t include the extreme costs to the taxpayer for Homeland Security, U.S. Border protection, local & federal policing
to try to prevent the illegal immigrants from entering the U,S, & returning them, “IF” captured, not to mention the entry of illegal drugs, guns, etc.

26 days 21 hours ago

No sources for the info given in this piece. Legal immigrants cannot receive means tested benefits until after 40 quarters (10 years) of full time work. This online article lacks any credibility. AMAC writers should attempt to write in the realm of facts and not disinformation. Stop piggy backing off of the conservative think tank / heavily biased / heritage foundation. Not every reader here is stupid enough to believe what is presented without question.

7 days 14 hours ago
wdtony, the story isn’t about “legal immigrants”. It is about ILLEGAL ALIENS. “Legal immigrants” do work and pay taxes and are LESS likely to be one the welfare roles. The exception to this is the refugees being allowed into the USA, most not properly vetted, and take up sitting upon the different welfare programs. “Illegal aliens” are more likely to hide in the shadows, take work where they are paid “under the table”, collect welfare benefits, and unfortunately get taken advantage of because they are less likely to report it. There are reports from the IRS of “illegals” filing tax returns (using an “ITIN” instead of a SSN) and claiming as many as 12 children dependents, who still live in their home country, and collecting EIS and child tax credit, and collecting tens of thousands of dollars in their return. This is on top of food stamps, Medicaid, “Obama phones”,… Read more »
7 days 13 hours ago
KC135, I don’t believe you’re correct that legal immigrants don’t have to meet regular requirements for Social Security. Everyone (including citizens & legal aliens) must meet the same eligibility requirements to receive Social Security benefits. Don’t confuse Social Security (“old age & survivors benefits”) with SSI (Supplemental Security Income). FICA payments go into the Social Security Trust Fund, from which Social Security’s “old age and survivors” benefits are paid to eligible recipients. In contrast, SSI is a means-tested low income supplemental benefit which isn’t funded from the SS Trust Fund but rather from the general revenues of the Government (like welfare, Medicaid, etc.). Although SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration, the Social Security Trust Fund isn’t used to pay benefits to SSI recipients. The Trust Funds which receive FICA payments can, by law, be used only, repeat only, to pay old age & survivors benefits and Social Security… Read more »
Kerry Brown
1 month 1 day ago
This is disgusting to an American worker (sickening) Anyone that doesn’t know Qbama isn’t trying to destroy the US is crazy as HELL.No one can tell me that it hasn’t gotten much worse since he took office. ( I can’t say got elected because I don’t believe we have that many fools in this country, I do not believe he is an American citizen. He is a muslim for sure. If something isn’t done soon they will rule this nation, If he hadn’t been black and had been on the republican ticket he would have been impeached with in 6 months.Half the people in the US has no idea what is happening in this country. I believe half of the American people would vote for satin if he run on the democrat ticket. If there isn’t a change made in the white house and soon we are gone as a… Read more »
Angelica Weatherbee
2 months 14 days ago

Your information is inaccurate this article just shows how some people lie to bring other people on board with ideas that have no basis. If your readers are intelligent they should read information from other real and reliable sources. Shame on you who build a web page to lie to others.

Paul Revere
6 days 14 hours ago

Angelica: If I understand you correctly, you can dispute the figures but you can’t dispute the facts. Many, if not most, “Illegals” are taking more than they are giving. Unlike the great wave of Europeans, for instance, who came to our shores with no “Social Umbrella” seeking only opportunity, and in so doing made America great & strong; Illegals, sad to say, seek less opportunity than they seek to be opportunists! It’s proving to be very enriching for them & very unstabilizing for us!

Lynne P C
7 days 10 hours ago

“If your readers were intelligent” is an argument ad hominem – that adds nothing to your view. Are you “intelligent”?

28 days 18 hours ago

Soooo we’re just supposed to take your word for it? Quite the narcissistic fool aren’t you?

Paul Revere
6 days 14 hours ago

Dear Max: We always have to take the word of Liberals. Ask any one if them; they’re never wrong! That’s why our beloved Country is in the great shape it’s in today, with prospects of getting even better if Hilary defeats Trump!

Daniel Manosalva
4 months 30 days ago

I can’t trust this article if it starts with Social Security cost for illegals. They DO NOT get social security or medicare. Only authorized workers do. I’m against illegal immigration but many many bussinesses have taken advantage of this by paying low salaries and many american poor people are not willing to do the hard work that illegals do. So, go find a less biased source.

Paul Revere
6 days 13 hours ago

Daniel: You might be right. But if I’m not wrong, “illegals” can help themselves to SSI, Medicaid & an insane list if other “entitlements!” So, in the long run, what difference does it make; the taxpayers are still being fleeced!

30 days 15 hours ago

Please read the entire article before spouting off.

1 month 8 hours ago

If you had taken the time to read the article, it says “unlawful immigrants at present do not have access to means-tested welfare, Social Security, or Medicare.”. They do, however, received other benefits (subsidized housing, etc.) and have U.S. born children who DO receive welfare, etc. Note also that “Social Security” consists of more than just “old-age & survivor” benefits; it also includes disability benefits.

Kerry Brown
1 month 1 day ago

You are exactly right because these Americans you are talking about is getting too many benefits to want to work. You let people get hungry and they will work

4 months 19 days ago

You clearly did not even read the article. The article actually uses the range of benefits to create a level playing field to compare rates. But if YOU were not so biased in the first two sentences, you might have noticed that.

Honorable Michael B. Fuller,Sui Juris
5 months 21 days ago
Extraordinary abuse abusive moral turpitude wrongfulness violation against Federal Immigration act section 8 U.S.C. 1324 (a)(1)(a)(iv)(b)(iii): INA 274 a (a)(1)(a): Section 8 U.S.C. 1325 Improper entry Aliens Asians or smart they can learn President Bruce A. Harrell Seattle City Council member 1962(d) conspiracy. Organized crime control act October 15,1970 Sign by Richard Nixon. Bruce A. Harrell where do we go from here with Asians are smart they can learn enemies and smart at the times of two or three war conflict against our females and males Armed Forces of America on Native Land. President Bruce A. Harrell Seattle City Council member. fraudulent and dishonest act Bruce A. Harrell. Where does it state in the first ten amendments of the Bill of Rights. That Asians or smart they can learn Bruce A. Harrell. Illegal and unconstitutional tens of thousands of unregistered voters, Martin Luther King Jr. Voters rights act 1965 being… Read more »
6 months 5 days ago

So Heritage has established that low education people have low incomes, and that low income people receive more benefits than they pay in taxes. Then they say illegal immigrants have low education levels.

Funny, I missed the part where they link illegal immigrants to spending on social programs. Funny given the number of laws Heritage has backed that specifically prevent illegal aliens from receive nearly ANY government benefits.

So if you believe this shows that illegal immigrants cost tax payers money, then I’ve got a card game called “find the lady” that you just *have* to play.

Michael Richard Slattery
6 months 9 days ago

$900B/yr? Check your numbers. that’s 50% more than we spend on defense.

5 months 18 days ago

You should check your numbers…the 80 plus programs spend over a trillion per year…wake up and stop believing fascist propaganda…

4 months 24 days ago

Show us a link of these so called facts.

6 months 24 days ago

A man robbed a bank (because his family was hungry) and as he drove away he was apprehended by the Police. The judge let him go and allowed him to keep the money and the robbery was deleted from his record. Does that sound realistic? Does that sound right? Allowing illegals to not pay for their criminal act and allowing them to even gain for it is a complete fracture of our values and system. It is atrocious and all of them need to be sent back to their country of origin ASAP. Splitting up families? YES it’s not our fault THEY or THEIRS have put them in this criminal situation.

7 months 8 days ago

Ryan, you seem to be in favor of illegal immigration. I will change my opinion to yours if you will leave the doors to your home open all the time and be the sole support of all the illegals who come into your house and expect to stay forever. The illegals will even get together and protest if you try to evict them! And if the other LEGAL RESIDENTS in your home object to supporting them, they have no choice but to contribute. Did you find any misspelled words etc. in this comment?

Angelica Weatherbee
2 months 14 days ago
Let me explain this in a different and more realistic way. You have a house that needs A LOT of work and you either have no time to do it or cannot or are not willing to pay a high rate to do the work. So you know that outside the fence there are a lot of people willing and able to do all the work you need, so you open the fence and allow them to enter without papers because that is convenient to you since they will have no rights and can be kicked out at your convenience, then you let them do the job, with a low pay rate convenient to you and better than nothing for them. They work their asses off and they do it so good that you let more people in. You are NOT SUPPORTING THEM, you established a relationship of convenience for… Read more »
3 months 26 days ago

This is about the most accurate post I’ve read yet!! Thank you for sharing!

7 months 12 hours ago


7 months 8 days ago

Unlawful immigrants cannot receive SSI, Unemployment and/or Medicare, they do not have a valid Social Security Number, making it impossible. However they own business and properties. If they are deported, all their business will close and all those properties would go into foreclosure; we could repeat the lending crisis from 2008. This is just one aspect. Also millions of teachers would lose their jobs, with all the schools closing, because there wont be no students, due to all that demand, their salaries would crash…. etc. There is not an easy answer to this issue.

Aaron A. Brown
4 months 12 days ago Law they are not afforded ssi, but many still do. Its calles identity theft which robs honest citizens billions yearly. Also, ssi is only one of the tax funded benefits. Illegals cost hundres of billions In hospital services. You either believe In Law And personal responsibility or you ultimately suport the degredation of society by the lack thereof.

Vans a dumb ass
6 months 14 days ago

How many immigrants do you know that own their own business you must not live in America

4 months 4 days ago

Immigrants of all types (legal and illegal) own businesses at a rate higher than native-born.

frank nowak
8 months 25 days ago

There have only been three times since COLA was added to Social Security that we did not receive an increase. All three were under Obama. What do you think will happen to your Social Security increases due to COLA when all these illegal aliens and mid-eastern refugees start receiving their Social Security checks? Not to mention terrorism, crime, disease. Anyone but Hilary!!!!

1 month 20 days ago

It’s fairly clear that this site is mainly a republican run website (thats perfectly fine, there’s nothing wrong with that), but many of the ‘facts’ are just untrue. I do encourage a genuine discussion or debate but only when you have the FACTS. Once the true facts are revealed then you can make whatever judgement you want. This website does a disservice to Americans who truly want to get informed and not spewed propoganda . I don’t expect to get many like on this comment lol

Gerald Spemcer
7 days 13 hours ago

Erik, It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. It’s about progressives vs constitutional conservatives. The constitution is NOT a living document and no one has the right to interpret it any other way than as it was written. Conservatives believe in facts while progressives believe in whatever they FEEL like today.

3 months 17 days ago

Liberals have Zero ability to think forward. They have an inability to projec, they just want “fairness” at everyone else’s expense. Doesn’t matter how much middle class gets the screws put to them, the liberals will never view it as enough. They will give away to others from others until we are in a complete socialist society.

Kerry Brown
1 month 1 day ago

ERIK If liberals want to keep up all the immegrants then you should pay the taxes to pay for it. Evidently all you ever watch is the liberal TV stations

Joel Mrlk
8 months 27 days ago

It is the american people’s fault for all this bullshit happening you al want to talk your crap but don’t do anything you let’s the politicians both parties shit on all of you at least the illegals get out there and protest in numbers shame on you the American tax payer and citizens when they take over I will laugh my ass off I love America but I am only one person God help us all

Thomas Carr
3 months 11 days ago

I Agree Joel, I’ve been saying the same thing !! Millions and Millions of Americans and only a hand full of us willing to stand up to the Government !! Remember America You are the Boss !! We pay them and if YOU don’t say and do something nothing will happen !! You want change then get up and change it !! Start by voting Trump !! Right your Government , Rally at the White House ! He’s one American that isn’t afraid of your Employees ! the assholes that we overpay . your Government who is taking you for a ride !! Crooks … Get the Picture yet ! hope so, for your kids sake !!

6 months 10 days ago

We do go out and protest, write letters to our senators which go where? The shredder, we protest but the media refuses to cover such protest. Not shame on Americans, shame on the deep pockets of the bought media, politicians. You really need to understand what’s really going on. Trump does and that’s why they are working so hard to stop him. They know Trump will stop all the back room shady dealings, build the wall ect…

Rod Taylor
1 year 5 days ago

I would like to know why is it that the illegal aliens can come out and protest our immigration laws or appear on tv ,ie: the ones being shown meeting the pope in Washington DC, and not be arrested on the spot. Illegal is illegal no matter what the crime. they are ruining this country! Get em out.

1 year 4 days ago

I had no idea you could tell who was legal and who was not just by looking at them. Maybe you should contact ICE and tell them they’ve been doing it all wrong!

Lee Chilson
3 months 10 hours ago

Maybe because in the interviews with the media, THEY IDENTIFY THEMSELVES as illegals…that’s how.

Common Sense
1 year 24 days ago

I wonder whether the costs of additional infrastructure to support the additional illegal immigrant population has been computed reasonably. Take California for example. How much will it cost the taxpayers of California for the hospital, transportation, electric power, water, sewer, school, law enforcement, and telecommunication infrastructure required of an additional 1 million illegal immigrants?

Angelica Weatherbee
2 months 14 days ago

All immigrants, undocumented or not pay for the services they use, they don’t have free services, so if the infrastructure needs to grow, the companies will have the income enough to plan on that type of growth.

1 year 1 month ago
Administrative Deportation Program Administered by the DSS (Department of Social Services) A practical, Constitutional and self-funding program. 1). Each non-citizen Adult and minors are required to register with the ADP and will be considered “Administratively Deported” and will be assigned a citizenship waiting list number in order of current registration. 2). All registered non-citizens waiting in line for processing of US will be allowed to remain, live and work without interruption while residing in the United States, each person will be classified as a non-citizen remain in a non-legal status until US citizenship is obtained and be considered “Administratively Deported” meaning no Federal social programs or monetary benefits will be granted or allowed to or for any person registered with the ADP with exception of Federal and State shared cost programs funding school lunches, health screenings or emergency services. 2). The citizenship of all new born children of non- citizen… Read more »
David S
7 days 8 hours ago

“Goal to make ADP fully self-funded without citizen taxpayer money.” “…and would be self funding.” I have some ocean-front property in Arizona for sale if you buy into this. Even if this were true and the ADP ended up with more money than needed, Congress would end up robbing the ADP just like they have Social Security.