Undocumented Immigrants and the CARES Act

I read on Facebook the other day (I know, but CNN published a report that suggests 75% of adults in the U.S. get their news from email or social media) that congressional Democrats proposed a rider to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the “CARES Act” that would grant undocumented immigrants the same Coronavirus economic incentive benefits as U.S. citizens would receive. Of course, this created a firestorm on social media. A little closer examination may be beneficial.

The CARES Act is a $2 trillion Coronavirus pandemic response bill to aid in the U.S. economic recovery. The CARES Act allocates $603.7 billion to individuals, with $300 billion (15% of the $2 trillion package) being earmarked for direct allocations. Those earning less than $75,000 will receive a one-time cash payment of $1,200. Married couples will each receive a $1,200 payment plus $500.00 per child. For example, this bill establishes that a family of four will receive $3,400.

The Pew Report suggests that in 2017, the U.S. had approximately 10.5 million undocumented immigrants, of which, 7.8 million were part of the U.S. workforce. The breakdown of these undocumented immigrants indicates that 4.95 million are from Mexico, 1.9 million are from Central America, and 1.45 million are from Asia. The report further indicates that approximately 7 million of these undocumented immigrants have been in the U.S. longer than 10 years, and approximately 2 million have been in the U.S. less than five years. Tangentially, the Center for Migration Studies estimates that 44% of undocumented immigrants are here because they have overstayed their visas.

This would seem to suggest that 7 million undocumented immigrants have contributed to the national economy by working, raising children, and paying taxes. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that between 50% – 75% of undocumented immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes per year. Several sources indicate that undocumented immigrants pay a total of approximately $25 billion per year in federal, state, and local taxes; which includes Social Security and Medicare. In 2016, according to the New American Economy, undocumented immigrants contributed $13 billion to Social Security funds and $3 billion to Medicare. It is important to note that undocumented immigrants do not have Social Security numbers and are not eligible for any Social Security or Medicare benefits.

The Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy approximates that half of undocumented immigrants (approximately 5 million) file a Federal income tax return. These are 5 million undocumented immigrants who could each receive a $1,200 CARES Act allocation. This is because the Internal Revenue Service would have a valid address or a valid bank account for which to apply the funds. Hypothetically, should these 5 million undocumented immigrants each receive a $1,200 allocation, the total would be $6 billion, or 2% of the $300 billion allocated for individual payment and .3% of the $2 trillion package.

As stated earlier, undocumented immigrants pay approximately $25 billion in taxes each year. For the 10-year period the majority of undocumented immigrants have worked in the U.S., this totals approximately $250 billion. If the undocumented immigrants each receive $1,200, this calculates that they would receive 2.4% of what they have paid in taxes in the last 10 years.

A central theme of the responses I read regarding this Democratic proposal was that undocumented immigrants would be receiving a government benefit of which they were not deserving, and, therefore, this benefit would be borne solely on the backs of American taxpayers. Statistically, however, this is simply not the case.


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