NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Financial Costs of Illegal Immigration

November 11, 2014

Many people believe that illegal immigrants receive little government welfare, but that is not the case, contends David Inserra, research associate with the Heritage Foundation. In a new report, Inserra provides some numbers on the fiscal cost of illegal immigration.

The typical American household received $31,584 in government benefits and services (such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, means-tested welfare programs, public education and local services like police protection) in 2010. Of course, not every household saw a net gain in government benefits -- higher income households tend to be tax contributors (meaning that they pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits), while other households are net tax consumers (receiving more in government services than they pay in taxes). According to Inserra:

  • The typical household headed by a college-educated person paid $54,089 in taxes while receiving just $24,839 in government benefits.
  • The average American household headed by a person without a high school diploma paid just $11,469 in taxes while receiving $46,582 in government benefits.

These numbers are significant, he explains, because the average illegal immigrant would fall on the "tax consumer" side of the equation; half of illegal immigrant households are headed by people with less than a high school diploma, while one-quarter have only a high school diploma. If illegal immigrants are granted amnesty, they will enter the welfare system and drain the treasury of funds:

  • The average illegal immigrant is 34 years old. If he receives amnesty, he will receive government benefits for 50 years. Some amnesty proposals suggest restricting benefit access for the first 13 years after amnesty, but that limit would have little impact on long-term costs.
  • Over the course of a lifetime, 11.5 million illegal immigrants granted amnesty would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits after paying just $3.1 trillion in taxes.

Notably, illegal immigrants are already receiving significant amounts of government benefits, writes Inserra. In 2010, the typical illegal immigrant household received $24,721 in government benefits but paid just over $10,000 in taxes -- an annual benefit of more than $14,000 per household. Illegal immigrants not only receive the benefits of government services (like fire and police protection), but their children receive public education. Additionally, children of illegal immigrants that are born in the United States are eligible for the full spread of government welfare benefits, including Social Security and Medicare.


Source: David Inserra, "Ten-Step Checklist for Revitalizing America's Immigration System: How the Administration Can Fulfill Its Responsibilities," Heritage Foundation, November 3, 2014. 


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