In Donald Trump's Immigration Policy for the 2016 US Presidential Election campaign, he claims:

The costs for the United States have been extraordinary: U.S. taxpayers have been asked to pick up hundreds of billions in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc. Indeed, the annual cost of free tax credits alone paid to illegal immigrants quadrupled to $4.2 billion in 2011.

Have 'free tax credits' quadrupled in 2011, and were they 4.2 billion in 2011?

  • 5
    It is a little vague. Hundreds of billions since when? Since the Mayflower?
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 1, 2015 at 13:21
  • @Oddthinking yes I agree. In fact the more I think of it the more I think it's a hard claim. I think I may refocus the claim towards the more exact one of the quote
    – dsollen
    Oct 1, 2015 at 13:31
  • @Oddthinking, it is vague, and they probably don't even have number. Computing healthcare, housing, education, and welfare costs for illegals would be hard; they probably just figured "hundreds of billions" was a safe number. Oct 1, 2015 at 16:38

1 Answer 1


Politifact seems to have done a decent rundown on this one explaining the details.

It's technically true-ish (2009, not 2011 etc) but it's hard to call it a "cost", they've been getting partial refunds on taxes they've paid for children who are mostly American citizens.


The $4.2 billion figure caught our eye. Though Trump’s campaign didn’t get back to us, we found a 2011 audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that corroborates his claim. Nonetheless, Trump confuses a few points.

In 2009 (not, as Trump says, in 2011), "individuals who are not authorized to work in the United States were paid $4.2 billion in refundable credits, according to the report. That’s indeed more than four times the amount in 2005 ($924 million).

How did this happen?

Although undocumented immigrants can’t get a Social Security Number, they can file taxes with a different nine-digit number, the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or ITIN.

Experts told us that illegal immigrants make up the vast majority of ITIN filers, though there’s no way of knowing just how many. The group also includes legal immigrants (refugees, asylum seekers, spouses), foreign workers (professors, technology workers, people who own businesses in America but live abroad), and dependents of both citizens and immigrants.

Regardless of immigration status, ITIN filers are not eligible for Social Security. According to the Social Security Administration, undocumented immigrants doled out an estimated $12 billion in payroll taxes but will never get the benefits. Also, ITIN filers can’t get the Earned Income Tax Credit, due to a provision in a 1996 law.

ITIN filers, however, can receive the Additional Child Tax Credit, a refund given to people who owed less in taxes than deductions they could receive through the Child Tax Credit (up to $1,000 per child).

The credit as it stands today was established in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, one of the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush. Unlike in 1996, Congress did not write a provision barring ITIN filers from claiming the refund.

As a result, claims for the additional child credit have increased significantly since 2001, according to the Treasury Inspector General audit. By 2009, 2.3 million ITIN filers received $4.2 billion through the additional child credit, a four-fold increase over 2005. Here’s a chart from the audit:

Under this current system for ITIN filers, "the government isn’t losing out," according to Bob Greenstein, president of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It gets more money in revenues than it gives out in credits.

However, Greenstein told us it’s slightly misleading to say that the recipients of the child credit are illegal immigrants.

"The vast majority of that $4.2 billion, the filer may be undocumented, but you have to have a child to receive it. And the children are overwhelmingly U.S. citizens," he said.

In other words, the $4.2 billion in tax credits largely benefits American-born children, whose parents are admittedly undocumented immigrants.

  • 14
    I guess that's a good ROI. Illegals PAY $11Billion in taxes, and we only have to pay out $4B. :) thefiscaltimes.com/2015/04/16/…
    – JasonR
    Oct 1, 2015 at 15:35
  • 9
    @user19555 The $4 B is just in tax credits, not counting the amount that is spent on social services for over ten million people. Added together, that almost certain exceeds $11 B (probably by a very wide margin.) Personally, I think it's a bit absurd that you can get a tax refund for taxes you never paid in the first place, though, regardless of legal status.
    – reirab
    Oct 1, 2015 at 15:43
  • 10
    @reirab: What makes you think they're getting a refund on taxes they didn't pay? It's a tax credit. You have to file, and pay, taxes to receive it. Oct 1, 2015 at 15:52
  • 9
    @T.J.Crowder You have to file taxes to get money from a tax credit, but you don't actually have to pay taxes to get money from a credit (if it's a refundable credit, that is... some credits are non-refundable.) For a refundable credit, they will send you a check for the amount even if your tax liability is zero (for example, if you had no income or your deductions/exemptions exceeded your income.) This is how people (both legal and otherwise) pay negative income taxes. If the credit value exceeds your tax liability, the Treasury sends you a check for the difference.
    – reirab
    Oct 1, 2015 at 16:15
  • 3
    @dsollen well it does say "a refund given to people who owed less in taxes than deductions they could receive" — so anyone within the scope of this question is paying less than zero (on their own behalf, to the IRS).
    – hobbs
    Oct 1, 2015 at 16:31

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