FACT CHECK: Hillary Clinton claims undocumented immigrants pour $12 billion into Social Security

Posted at 2:36 PM, Aug 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-14 18:21:19-04

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton reiterated her support for immigration reform at a joint convention of black and Hispanic journalists Aug. 5.

One of the event’s moderators, Telemundo national correspondent Lori Montenegro, asked Clinton how she would do it, since it has not been achieved during President Barack Obama’s time in office.

Clinton said she would introduce legislation for comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days in office and would take a "very hard look" at deportation priorities.

"My priority are violent criminals, people suspected of any kind of connection to terrorism," she said, "not hard-working mothers and fathers and people who go to work, help support this economy, pay $12 billion a year into Social Security."

Undocumented immigrant workers "pay $12 billion a year into Social Security."

We decided to truth-check this statement. 

Clinton’s campaign referred us to a note issued by the Social Security Administration in April 2013 outlining the effects of unauthorized immigration on the Social Security Trust Funds. 

The two trust funds are the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), which pays retirement and survivors benefits, and the Disability Insurance (DI), used to pay disability benefits.

The note from the Office of the Chief Actuary said its estimates are based on the best available information, but that it is difficult to determine with certainty what portion of total taxes paid and benefits received come from earnings of unauthorized immigrants.

Still, the office estimated that in 2010, "the excess of tax revenue paid to the Trust Funds over benefits paid from these funds based on earnings of unauthorized workers is about $12 billion."

Here’s how the administration came up with that number.

Using Census estimates, SSA said about 12.6 million people were not permanent residents or citizens by January 2009. Nearly 11 million of them were undocumented, the rest had temporary status, such as student visas or temporary work visas.

SSA adjusted that pool to exclude kids and other undocumented immigrants who would not be working. That left about 8.3 million "other immigrants" in 2010 who worked in the United States, including people who did not have legal permanent residency, who were not U.S. citizens and who had temporary legal visas.

Of that 8.3 million people, SSA deducted the number of visa holders authorized to work (1.3 million) and an estimated number of those in the underground economy (3.9 million) who would not pay taxes.

That leaves about 3.1 million unauthorized immigrants who worked and paid Social Security taxes in 2010 — about 600,000 of them at some point had work permits and overstayed terms of their visas, about 700,000 used fraudulent birth certificates to get a Social Security number, and about 1.8 million used a Social Security number that did not match their name.

Laws enacted in 1996 and 2004 block Social Security benefits paid to unauthorized immigrants or to any noncitizen without a work-authorized Social Security number at some point in time, the administration said.

Unauthorized immigrants themselves cannot get Social Security benefits, but if they obtain legal status, there are limited ways through which they can collect benefits, said Tom Jawtez, vice president for immigration policy at the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.

There are other estimates out there.

Heritage Foundation pegs the annual amount of tax contributions by unauthorized immigrants at $7 billion.

The Heritage calculation is based on a withholding rate of 6.2 percent of earnings, estimated earnings of $31,200, and 3.6 million unauthorized workers. The foundation appears to exclude employers’ payments on behalf of workers.

Our ruling

Clinton said that if elected president her administration would focus on deporting violent criminals, not "hard-working mothers and fathers and people who go to work, help support this economy, pay $12 billion a year into Social Security."

The Social Security Administration estimates about $12 billion was paid into the administration’s trust funds from earnings of unauthorized workers in 2010 (after deducting about $1 billion from possible benefits paid out). This number includes contributions on behalf of employees as well as their employers. Workers and employers pony up about the same amount into the system.

A calculation by another group excluded employer contributions and came up with a total of $7 billion paid into the system by undocumented immigrants.

Clinton’s statement is partially accurate, but leaves out important details. We rate her statement Half True.


For the complete fact-check, visit our news partner, PolitiFact