Illegal Alien Access to U.S. Taxpayer-Financed Programs and Services–The Causes and Costs of Illegal Immigration Through the United States’ Southwest Border (Part III)

A Report by Dr. Peter Navarro. Released February 2020.

Illegal Alien Access to U.S. Taxpayer-Financed Programs and Services
How is it that illegal aliens are readily access a broad range of U.S. taxpayer-financed education, medical, social, and welfare benefits – even benefit programs that ostensibly are off-limits to illegal aliens? Table Nine lists a set of judicial and legislative acts that facilitate such access.

             A. Birthright Citizenship Under the 14th Amendment – The “Anchor Baby” Phenomenon
Under the current legal interpretation(76) of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, children born to illegal aliens on U.S. soil are guaranteed U.S. citizenship. These so-called “anchor babies” now number more than four million in the U.S.;(77) and the Pew Research Center estimates that nearly 250,000 anchor babies are born each year.(78)

Pew further notes that the birthrate for anchor babies is disproportionately high. While adult illegal aliens comprise no more than 4% of the total adults in with United States, anchor babies now account for 6% to 7% of total U.S. births.(79) Even though illegal aliens make up about 3.2%80 of the population, they account for over 10%81 of publicly funded births.

Note that birthright citizenship is far from the international norm. Only 36 of the 195 countries in the world offer it. Aside from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Pakistan, and the U.S., most nations offering birthright citizenship are small developing nations that range from Caribbean islands like Antigua, Grenada, and Trinidad to Latin American countries like Ecuador, Paraguay, and Panama.(82)
It is a matter of some debate as to whether birthright citizenship further incentivizes illegal immigration. What is clear is that birthright citizenship does expand illegal alien access to U.S. taxpayer-financed benefits in several ways.(83)

Consider, for example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), colloquially known as “food stamps.” Under the legal requirements of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA),(84) illegal aliens are technically denied access to SNAP. Nonetheless, an anchor baby of illegal aliens can qualify for food stamps because it is a U.S. citizen. Of course, with the SNAP program, it is not the anchor baby purchasing groceries with an “electronic benefit transfer” card. Rather, it is the child’s parents, who presumably shop for the entire family.(85)

As a second example, in some cases, an anchor baby doesn’t even need to be born yet to provide illegal alien parents access to U.S. benefits. In the sixteen states where the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been expanded to care for the unborn, illegal alien mothers are routinely provided pre-natal care under the assumption that the unborn child will be born as an American citizen.(86)

               B. 1979, 1989 Rise of Sanctuary Cities, Counties, and States
The so-called sanctuary city phenomenon grew out of two separate legal actions taken first in Los Angeles in 1979 and then in San Francisco in 1989.(87) Sanctuary cities, counties, and states get their title by ignoring detainer requests made by ICE or by refusing to cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement. However, most sanctuary cities, counties, and states also exhibit two key features that make it easier for illegal aliens to access America’s taxpayer financed welfare state.

First, it is typically illegal for government employees and government-aided institutions (e.g., teachers, DMV personnel, librarians, healthcare institutions receiving public funds) to ask about the immigration status of an individual.(88) This lack of transparency makes it possible for illegal aliens to access public benefits otherwise denied to illegal aliens, e.g., healthcare, food stamps, and driver’s licenses.(89) This opacity also makes it impossible to gather accurate, updated information about the presence, danger, and burden of illegal aliens in these communities.(90) 

Second, cities such as Chicago, New York, and Seattle, along with all of California explicitly extend taxpayer-funded benefits to illegal aliens.(91) For example, all New York residents, regardless of immigration status, can apply for all of the services of the Human Resource Administration. These gifts include food stamps, health insurance, up to $300 per month temporary cash assistance, and free legal consultations.(92)

In Chicago, a city-wide legal identification program known as CityKey does not require U.S. citizenship. Yet it serves as sufficient legal identification for driver’s licenses, school enrollment, voting registration, and other city-provided services.(93) According to a 2017 study conducted by the National Economics Editorial, illegal aliens cost Illinois roughly $3.85 billion annually.(94) This burden adds to the fiscal woes of the Prairie State that is more than $60 billion in debt with a BBB-credit rating and $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.(95)

In California, Medi-Cal is available to all qualifying low-income residents regardless of immigration status at a taxpayer cost of about $20 billion annually.(96) At the end of 2017, there were nearly 220,000 illegal immigrant children alone on Medi-Cal, with an estimated cost of $280 million, or over $1,200 per child.(97)

Today, as illustrated in Figure Four, there are at least 165 sanctuary cities and/or counties spread over roughly 27 states in America.(98) In addition, eight states are considered to be “sanctuary states:” California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont.(99) 


These sanctuaries also make it considerably easier for illegal aliens to disappear into the interior of the United States and gain access to a wide range of US-taxpayer financed benefits and services. By enhancing both labor market access and access to America’s welfare state, U.S. sanctuary laws further incentivize illegal mass migration.(101)

       C. 1982 Supreme Court   Decision Plyler vs. Doe & 1998 Congressional Expansion of the National School Lunch Program(102)
The Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Plyler vs. Doe ruled that the children of illegal immigrants have the same rights as American citizen children regarding public K-12 education.(103) With a per pupil cost of  $12,000 per year for K-12 education,(104) and roughly five million children of illegal aliens now attending K-12, the total cost of educating illegal migrants adds up to nearly $60 billion annually.(105) About one million of these children in the K-12 system are illegal aliens themselves; the remainder are anchor babies.(106)  

     D. 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act
In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). It requires all hospitals that accept Medicare to provide emergency care services, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.(107) 

This EMTALA effectively turned emergency rooms across the nation into doctors’ offices for illegal aliens.  While pregnant illegal alien mothers on U.S. soil are ineligible for Medicaid, they are able to receive emergency medical services, including labor and delivery, despite their immigration status.(108) 

A 2012 analysis of the 2010 Census Bureau American Community Survey conducted by the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that 35% of homes headed by illegal aliens received Medicaid benefits at an annual average cost of $4,520 and at a total cost to U.S. taxpayers of as much as $6 billion.(109) 

    E. 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act
The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act(110) was passed as a broad-based “welfare reform.” It was derived from the Republican Party’s “Contract With America” and supported by President Bill Clinton.(111) Among its many features, the Act limited the access of many aspects of the U.S. welfare state to illegal aliens.(112)
However, in 2001, Attorney General Janet Reno turned this limitation on its head when she issued Department of Justice Order No. 2353-2001.(113) This lame duck order was issued just days before President Clinton would hand the reins of government over to George W. Bush. The Reno Order dramatically expanded the availability of U.S. taxpayer-financed services to illegal aliens to include:


  • Police, fire, ambulance, transportation, sanitation, and other regular widely available services.
  • Crisis counseling and intervention programs, child protection services, adult protection services, violence and abuse prevention services, mental illness and substance abuse treatments.
  • Short-term shelter and housing assistance for the homeless, victims of domestic abuse, and for runaway children.
  • Public programs to aid persons in periods of heat, cold, flooding, and other adverse weather conditions.
  • Soup kitchens, community food banks, senior nutrition programs (meals on wheels), public health services; and any other programs, services, or assistance necessary to the protection of life and safety.(114)

          F. 1996 IRS Regulation Creates Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers for Illegal Aliens
In May 1996, the Treasury Department’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a regulation that granted Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) to aliens not qualified to work in the US and not qualified for Social Security Numbers (SSNs). Effectively, this regulation incentivized illegal aliens to use fraudulent SSNs to first gain employment and then file for tax refunds using ITINs. (115)

Since the creation of ITINs in 1996, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has issued numerous audit reports.116 These audits inevitably catalogue both the frequent use of fraudulent SSNs – a federal crime, which constitutes deportation if committed by an illegal resident(117) – as well as the billions of dollars in subsidies transferred to illegal aliens filing under the ITIN system.(118)

From 2011 to 2016, Treasury documents a staggering 1.3 million cases of known SSN fraud committed by ITIN holders. Despite these large number of cases, only 4,329 prosecution recommendations were made.

In 2017 alone, an additional 1.2 million cases of SSN fraud were committed by illegal aliens, with only 403 recommended prosecutions. Half a million people whose social security numbers were fraudulently used never received notice that their identity was stolen.(119)

In many cases, the refund an illegal alien will receive will not only include the return of the withholding taxes on wages; it will also include payments associated with subsidies such as the Child Tax Credit.(120) When these subsidies are in excess of the payroll taxes contributed by illegal aliens, the Treasury Department runs a net deficit on these illegal aliens, i.e., they receive more in refunds than they pay into the system.(121)

Note that, with the passage of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017,(122) children must now be U.S. citizens to qualify. However, this remains a case where the anchor baby phenomenon provides access to U.S. taxpayer funds. Moreover, of the five million children living with illegal alien parents, 80% of the children are U.S. citizens.(123)

Illegal aliens are also eligible with an ITIN for the American Opportunity Credit. They “can claim up to a $2,500 tax credit per eligible student per tax year for qualified tuition expenses for the first four years of post-secondary education in a degree or certificate program.”(124)

As noted earlier, because of the availability of these tax subsidies, many illegal aliens using ITINs to file federal income tax forms wind up as net beneficiaries of the income tax system. The refunds of the withholding taxes combined with various tax credits often more than offset the non-refundable contributions of these illegal aliens to the payroll tax.(125)

71 Plyler v. Doe. 457 U.S. 202. Supreme Court of the United States. 15 June 1982.
72 William F. Goodling Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 1998. Public Law No: 105-336. 31 October 1998. United States Congress.
73 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. Public Law No: 99-272. 42 U.S. Code § 1395dd. Examination and Treatment for Emergency Medical Conditions and Women in Labor. 7 April 1986. United States Congress. and
74 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Public Law No: 104-193. 22 August 1996. United States Congress.
75 Reno, Department of Justice Order No. 2353-2001. 5 August 2016.
76 The amendment was ratified in 1868. Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution Accessed at:
77 Tuttle, Ian, “The Very Real Economic Costs of Birthright Citizenship,” The National Review. 21 August 2015.
78 Passel, Jeffrey, D’Vera Cohn, and John Gramlich, “Number of U.S.-born babies with unauthorized immigrant parents has fallen since 2007,” Pew Research Center, 1 November 2018.
79 “Number and Share of U.S. Births to Unauthorized Immigrants, 1980-2013,” Pew Research Center. 10 September 2015.
Passel, Jeffrey, D’Vera Cohn, and John Gramlich, “Number of U.S.-born babies with unauthorized immigrant parents has fallen since 2007,” Pew Research Center, 1 November 2018.
80 Krogstad, Jens Manuel, et al. “5 Facts about Illegal Immigration in the U.S.” Pew Research Center. 12 June 2019.
81 Camarota, Steven A, et al. “Births to Legal and Illegal Immigrants in the U.S.” Center for Immigration Studies.
82 The countries are: Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Lesotho, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, and Uruguay. “Countries with Birthright Citizenship 2019,” World Population Review. 28 August 2019.
83 There are two primary views on whether or not birthright citizenship encourages illegal immigration. The Center for Immigration Studies suggests that it certainly does, as United States citizenship is a powerful incentive, as well as the benefits citizens and their family receive.  
Arthur, Andrew, “Birthright Citizenship: An Overview,” Center for Immigration Studies, 5 November 2018.
However, major news sources, such as NPR and Times proclaim that birthright citizenships is constitutional and that there is little evidence that is a contributing factor to illegal immigration.  
Peralta, Eyder, “3 Things You Should Know About Birthright Citizenship,” NPR. 18 August 2015.
Long, Colleen, “President Trump Again Claims He Can Abolish Birthright Citizenship—But Legal Precedent Isn’t on His Side,” TIME. 21 August 2019.
84 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Public Law No: 104-193. 22 August 1996. United States Congress.
85 As a further complication, the current mixed-status household income proration rule for SNAP benefits allows families containing illegal alien members to receive benefits, despite having higher incomes than what would usually disqualify an all-citizen household of the same size and income. In this way, the rules of SNAP discriminate in favor of illegal alien families with anchor babies over all-American citizen families. This rule has been enacted in 46 states and the District of Columbia. For more information on non-citizen eligibility for SNAP, see here:
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility,” June 2011. 
86 Emergency Medicaid services provided by EMTALA provide for the labor and delivery of the child, as well as any emergency procedure/care necessary in attempt to save the life/ long term health of the unborn child (42 USC 1395dd). Prenatal care is covered under CHIP. Therefore only states that have extended CHIP to the unborn offer free prenatal care to illegal aliens. To quote the Kaiser Family Foundation,  
“Since 2002, states also have had the option to provide prenatal care to women regardless of immigration status by extending CHIP coverage to the unborn child, which 16 states provided as of January 2019. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP, but some states have fully state-funded programs that cover certain groups of immigrants regardless of immigration status, including seven states that cover all income-eligible children.”
States that have extended CHIP benefits to unborn children include: Arkansas, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas (state funds only), Washington, Wisconsin. States that have expanded CHIP to the unborn child have a qualifying income level requirement with the median level at 214% above FPL.  
Garfield, Rachel, Kendal Orgera, and Anthony Doamico, “Medicaid and CHIP Eligibility, Enrollment, and Cost Sharing Policies as of January 2019: Findings from a 50-State Survey,” The Kaiser Family Foundation. Washington D.C. 2019.
87 “Sanctuary Policy FAQ,” National Conference of State Legistlatures. 20 June 2019.
“Chapter 12H: Immigration Status,” City of San Francisco. San Francisco Administrative Code. 24 October 1989.
88 Tsu, Naomi, “What is a Sanctuary City Anyway?” Teaching Tolerance.
89 U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, “An Analysis of Overpayments Not Included In the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Measure for “Prevention of Overpayments,””
90 “10 Data on Immigrants and Immigrant Integration.” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. The Integration of Immigrants into American Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21746.
91 “Mapping Public Benefits for Immigrants in the States,” Pew Charitable Trusts. 24 September 2014.
92 Stringer, Scott M., Office of the New York City Comptroller, “Immigrant Rights and Services Manual,” 2018.
93 “Government Benefits for Immigrants,” Illinois Legal Aid Online.
94 Scott, Dylan, “Illegal Immigrants Cost Illinois $3.85 Billion A Year—State On Verge Of Bankruptcy,” National Economics Editorial. 4 July 2017.
95 Scott, Dylan, “Illegal Immigrants Cost Illinois $3.85 Billion A Year—State on Verge of Bankruptcy,” National Economics Editorial. 4 July 2017.
96 Achambault, John, “The California Medicaid Rush: More Costly than Gold,” Forbes. 20 December 2017. gold/#668f378f6477
97 McConville, Shannon, “Expanding Health Care Coverage for Undocumented Immigrants,” Public Policy Institute of California. 4 April 2018.
98 Lee, Jasmine, Rudy Omri and Julia Preston, “What Are Sanctuary Cities?” New York Times. 6 February 2017.
99 Tsu, Naomi, “What is a Sanctuary City Anyway?” Teaching Tolerance.
100 Lee, Jasmine, Rudy Omri and Julia Preston, “What Are Sanctuary Cities?” New York Times. 6 February 2017.
101 Thiessen, Marc A., “Trump Is Right To Call Out Democrats For Their Hypocrisy On Sanctuary Cities,” The Washington Post. 18 April 2019.
102 Kring, Chandra, “National School Lunch Program,” National Conference of State Legislatures. 2005.
103 In the Supreme Court’s majority opinion it says, “…the Texas statute imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status. These children can neither affect their parents’ conduct nor their own undocumented status…. Nor is there any merit to the suggestion that undocumented children are appropriately singled out for exclusion because of the special burdens they impose on the State’s ability to provide high-quality public education. The record does not show that exclusion of undocumented children is likely to improve the overall quality of education in the State.” Plyler v. Doe. 457 U.S. 202. Supreme Court of the United States. 15 June 1982.
104 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, “Fast Facts: Expenditures,”
105 “Unauthorized Immigrint Population Profiles.” Migration Policy Institute.
Data Tables for Percentage of the population 3 to 34 years old enrolled in school by sex, race/ethnicity, and age group: Selected years 1980 through 2016. National Center for Education Statistics.
“Education Spending Per Student by State,” Governing. 2016 data.
106 Passel, Jeffrey and D’Vera Cohn, “Children of unauthorized immigrants represent rising share of K-12 students,” Pew Research Center. 17 November 2016.
107 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Emergency Health Services for Undocumented Aliens,” 9 May 2005.
108 Zibulewsky, J. “The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA): what it is and what it means for physicians.” Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center) vol. 14,4 (2001): 339-46. doi:10.1080/08998280.2001.11927785
109 In 2013, the Heritage Foundation estimated that there was a total of 3.7 million illegal alien households in the U.S. Assuming that 35% of these households received the average emergency Medicaid treatment, they accrued a total of $5.9 billion in expenses to the American taxpayer.
Richwine, Jason and Robert Rector, “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer,” The Heritage Foundation. 6 May 2013.
Camarota, Steven, “Immigrants in the United States, 2010: A Profile of America’s Foreign-Born Population,” Center for Immigration Studies, 8 August 2012.
110 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Public Law No: 104-193. 22 August 1996. United States Congress.
111 “The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: A Legislative History,” Congressional Research Service. 2 April 2019.
112 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Public Law No: 104-193. 22 August 1996. United States Congress.
113 Reno, Janet, Department of Justice No. 2353-2001. 5 August 2016.
114 Reno, Janet, Department of Justice No. 2353-2001. 5 August 2016.
115 Hallman, Hunter, “How do Undocumented Immigrants Pay Federal Taxes? An Explainer,” Bipartisan Policy Center,
116 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, “Individuals Who Are Not Authorized to Work in the United States Were paid $4.2 Billion in Refundable Credits,” 7 July 2011.
117 Sec. 117 [42 USC. 1307]. Social Security Admisistration.
118 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, “Individuals Who Are Not Authorized to Work in the United States Were paid $4.2 Billion in Refundable Credits,” 7 July 2011. Pg. 5.
119 Terrence, Jeffrey, “IRS Documented 1.3M Identity Thefts by Illegal Aliens; Can’t Say it Referred Any for Prosecution,” CNS News. 16 March 2018.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, “IRS Criminal Investigations Issues Fiscal 2012 Report,” 10 May 2013.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, “IRS: Criminal Investigation 2017 Annual Report,”
120 In 2019, the EITC ranges from $529 for a single person or couple filing qualifying children up to $6,557 for a filer with three or more qualifying children. The Child Tax Credit provides a credit of up to $2000 child under the age of 17. If that credit exceeds the taxes owed, a family may receive up to $1400 per child as a refund. In many cases, illegal aliens under this system are not only able to recover all the taxes they paid into the system, including the equivalent of their payroll tax contributions, but also wind up with a net subsidy.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, “2019 EITC Income Limits, Maximum Credit Amounts and Tax law Updates,” 10 July 2019.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Tax Cuts for the American Family,”
121 For example, in tax year 2010, about 238,000 ITIN holders submitted more than 608,000 tax returns. They claimed more than one billion dollars in Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). During that tax year, many individuals also submitted duplicate returns for multiple years to multiple IRS processing centers and thereby received duplicate ACTC funds. These ITIN filers filed roughly $870 million in taxes, while receiving nearly $4 billion in ACTC benefits. As of 2015, ITIN filers comprised about 3% of all filers. After receiving refunds, ITIN filers only contributed 58% of their initial withheld taxes, meaning they received the remaining 42% back in cash from the government. This compares to 80% of withholding taxes still paid by SSN holders; they only received 20% of their taxes back in monetary refunds. This program has allowed illegal aliens to consume at higher rates than contribute, as ITIN filers consume 3% of refunds given, however, they only contribute 1% of the total taxes received.121
For more information on ITIN fraud and benefit consumption, see here: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, “Individuals Who Are Not Authorized to Work in the United States Were Paid $4.2 Billion in Refundable Credits,” 7 July 2011.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, National Taxpayer Advocate, “National Taxpayer Advocate Annual Report to Congress,” 2015.
122 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, “Individuals Who Are Not Authorized to Work in the United States Were Paid $4.2 Billion in Refundable Credits,” 7 July 2011.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, National Taxpayer Advocate, “National Taxpayer Advocate Annual Report to Congress,” 2015.
123 Capps, Randy, Michael Fix, and Jie Zong, “A Profile of U.S. Children with Unauthorized Immigrant Parents,” Migration Policy Institute. January 2016.
124 Foy, Joseph and Frimette Kass-Shraibman, “Illegal Immigration and Tax Issues,” The CPA Journal, May 2018.
125 “The TCJA Is Increasing the Share of Households Paying No Federal Income Tax,” Tax Policy Center. Urban Institute and Brookings Institute. 5 September 2018.