At a CNN town hall event earlier this week, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg claimed that illegal immigrants subsidize citizens and legal residents because illegal immigrants pay taxes without reaping federal benefits.
His claim is way off.
A clip is available from CNSNews here:
"I would be delighted to have more people," Buttigieg said. "We only have 100,000 because so many people left after the auto factories collapsed in the '60s. We've got plenty of room for more residents and taxpayers who want to help fund the snowplowing and firefighters that I've got to have for 130,000 people's worth of city, with only 100,000 people to pay for it."
"And let us not forget that in many respects, from property taxes to sales taxes, undocumented immigrants are taxpayers, and the truth is, in many respects, because they are not eligible for a lot of benefits," the Democratic mayor added, "they are subsidizing the rest of us, which is just one more reason we've got to get this sorted out."
This talking point has been floating around the immigration debate for a while. But are illegal immigrants indeed paying payroll, property, and sales taxes while using no government services and receiving no government benefits?
Under federal immigration laws, even legal immigrants have various residency and work standards to meet before they can get federal benefits. In fact, the Immigration and Nationality Act states that those seeking entry to the country or applying for green cards are ineligible if they are "likely at any time to become a public charge." That means we are supposed to turn back immigrants who can't support themselves once they're here.
But if the U.S. were even moderately faithful in enforcing all its immigration laws to the letter, we wouldn't have a full-blown border crisis on our hands. As Eddie Scarry points out over at the Washington Examiner, more than 30,000 illegal immigrants are living in government-assisted housing, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients are eligible for federal government mortgages.
But the list goes on. Illegal immigrants with children born on U.S. soil are completely eligible for benefits. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, 31 percent of these families receive food stamps (now called SNAP benefits). CIS also found in 2018 that 63 percent of households headed by a noncitizen use at least one welfare program.
In 2017, the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated that the total annual cost of illegal immigration to the American taxpayer was $116 billion. 2017 numbers from CIS' Steven Camerota estimated a lifetime cost of almost $75,000 per illegal immigrant.
Now, bear in mind that Border Patrol's apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley for fiscal year 2019 so far have already surpassed those of all of fiscal year 2018, and the month of March alone saw over 103,000 apprehensions between points of entry, putting us on pace for a 1.2 million annual total.
Those eye-popping numbers paint a pretty stark picture of how much this crisis actually costs John and Jane Q. Taxpayer. "Mayor Pete" might want to check his math again.