EDITOR’S NOTE: Julianne Hing is covering the collision of politics and immigration in the 2016 campaign. But we need your support to get her on the campaign trail—and Beacon Reader will double every dollar you donate! This is the final two days of our campaign! Donate today to make more of this reporting possible.
In the rural Arkansas town where Marisol Soto grew up, the 21-year-old student was the only undocumented immigrant in her high school. Her immigration status isolated her, but it also gave her a window into how little her neighbors understood about the realities of the issue. “It’s the South. It’s very country, and my story is not common here,” Soto told me. “They don’t know how we get here. They don’t know we have to cross a desert, cross rivers, to get to this country.”
But it wasn’t until the ascendance of Donald Trump this summer that Soto decided she had to start responding to the stereotype of undocumented immigrants as law-breaking, job-stealing murderers and rapists. “Hearing all these comments thanks to Donald Trump getting everyone all riled up, I had to find a way to fix it.”
Her answer was #Undocumoney, a social-media campaign meant to correct the belief that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes. In a short video, Soto ticks off report findings that show undocumented immigrants, who are not eligible for many public programs, including federal student aid, Medicaid and Medicare, and Social Security, nonetheless pay into those systems. They are financing public investment programs, even as they’re barred from accessing the benefits.
Soto’s campaign resonated—grabbing headlines and airtime on Telemundo, the New York Daily News, and NBC—in part because so much of the political fight over immigration has been waged with misleading facts and figures. At the second GOP debate, for example, Trump repeatedly harped on a mysterious $200 billion the U.S. is supposedly spending annually to “maintain what we have” when it comes to undocumented immigrants. It’s still unclear what Trump was even referring to with the figure. (The cost of deporting every single undocumented immigrant from the country, as Trump would also like, has been estimated at $140 billion.)
So here are three simple facts to ground further debate over the supposed costs of undocumented immigration.
#1 Yes, undocumented immigrants pay taxes.
And they do so in multiple forms. Undocumented immigrants are not just workers, they’re also consumers who must pay standard sales and excise taxes. According to an April 2015 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants paid an estimated $11.8 billion in state and local taxes in 2012. According to ITEP, half of undocumented immigrant households file income taxes using special ID numbers issued by the federal government to those who don’t have Social Security numbers.
#2 Undocumented immigrants are a net financial gain for Social Security, in particular.
In 2013, the Social Security Administration estimated that for the year 2010, undocumented immigrants paid $12 billion in excess tax revenue into Social Security—money they cannot currently withdraw. Or, as the SSA’s brief put it, “earnings by unauthorized immigrants result in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status generally.”