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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Social Security for Illegal Immigrants?

Q: Is Congress about to give Social Security to illegal immigrants?

A: Congress hasn’t voted on any measure to pay benefits to illegal immigrants, and has no plans for any such vote.


Is this true?


It does not matter if you personally like or dislike Obama. You need to sign this petition and flood his e-mail box with e-mails that tell him that, even if the House passes this bill, he needs to veto it. It is already impossible to live on Social Security alone. If the government gives benefits to ‘illegal’ aliens who have never contributed, where does that leave those of us who have paid into Social Security all our working lives?

As stated below, the Senate voted this week to allow ‘illegal’ aliens access to Social Security benefits.
Attached is an opportunity to sign a petition that requires citizenship for eligibility to that social service.

Instructions are below. If you don’t forward the petition and just stop it, we will lose all these names.

If you do not want to sign it, please just forward it to everyone you know.

Thank you!


Versions of this whopper have been going around since 2006 and picked up after Democrats won increased House and Senate majorities last November. Since January 1, readers have forwarded to us more than 100 e-mails that claim Congress is about to vote or is voting right now or just voted last week to give Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants. All are false.

We first saw this bogus claim bandied about as a Republican campaign theme during the 2006 midterm elections. As we explained then, no benefits can legally be paid to illegal immigrants and there was never a proposal to change that.

The false claims mischaracterize debate over immigration legislation in 2006. There was a failed attempt by Republicans to change current law in order to prevent immigrants who become citizens, or who are granted legal status, from getting credit toward future Social Security benefits for taxes they paid before becoming legal. Current law allows illegal immigrants to get such credit – but only when and if they become legal. Republicans offered an amendment to change this, but it failed, as did the immigration legislation to which it would have been attached.

But the bunk didn’t die with the bill. During the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attacked eventual nominee Sen. John McCain on this same issue. We noted the falsehood again then. The rumor took on new life last fall when an independent group ran television ads saying Barack Obama’s domestic plan “gives illegals Social Security.” As we pointed out at the time, the allegation was simply false.

We’ll just quickly note that illegal immigrants are broadly disqualified from collecting benefits from government programs, according to U.S. Code, with only limited exceptions. Those exceptions are:

  • Emergency medical care (which includes emergency labor and delivery)
  • Emergency disaster relief that is provided for the short term and is not a cash payment
  • Limited immunizations and testing, and treatment of symptoms of communicable diseases
  • Certain community programs, such as soup kitchens or crisis counseling, as specified by the Attorney General
  • Limited housing or community development assistance to those already receiving it in 1996

These are the only circumstances under which illegal immigrants can lawfully receive government assistance. Notably absent from this list is any type of Social Security benefits. To repeat: Illegal immigrants cannot legally receive Social Security benefits, and Congress isn’t about to vote on legislation that would change that.

Of course, some immigrants who are here without legal permission do end up receiving Social Security and other benefits, through bureaucratic mistakes or through deliberate fraud. The Government Accountability Office has even called this a “serious problem,” though the GAO also says that “the full extent of benefit fraud is unknown.” This problem draws the ire of conservative commentators and is sometimes distorted in Internet or e-mail postings to imply falsely that such payments are government policy.

These e-mails and rumors about Social Security have bubbled up so often that we’ve included it in the frequently asked questions on our “Hot Topics” page.


U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Immigration Benefits: Additional Controls and a Sanctions Strategy Could Enhance DHS’s Ability to Control Benefit Fraud.” GAO-06-259, Mar. 2006.

Gillison, Douglas. “Marines: Looking for a Few Good Aliens? Recruiter on trial for selling IDs to enlist illegals.” The Village Voice, 4 Oct. 2005.

Hayes, Matt. “Illegal Aliens Eligible for Social Security Benefits.” FoxNews.com, 20 Feb. 2003.

Social Security Administration. “U.S. International Social Security Agreements.”