Tag: Immigration

DACA Explained

This Vox video gives an overview of DACA: Its history, who is eligible for DACA, and the protections that those individuals receive when they become DACA recipients.

It also describes the events that led to the Trump Administration revoking the program in September of 2017.

The video ends with a few statistics describing how DACA has changed the lives of those involved in the program:

  • 69% got a job with better pay
  • 61% opened their first bank account
  • 65% bought their first car
  • 65% pursued educational opportunities they previously couldn’t

“When those protections expire over the next weeks, months or years, they will be back where they started before 2012: unable to work legally and constantly at risk for deportation.”


How Sanctuary Cities Actually Work

This video from Vox explains what sanctuary cities are. Sanctuary cities are: “Cities and counties in the US that limit their  cooperation with immigration enforcement.” But what does that mean?

It explains that there are a number of different policies in cities that make them “sanctuary cities” but to truly understand the situation, you must look at the choices that a local police officer must make when handling an undocumented immigrant that he has already arrested for some other reason.



Local police officers have the choice to either 1. Honor requests from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to hold the undocumented immigrant so that ICE can pick the immigrant up and begin the deportation process, or 2. Let the immigrant go.

Both choices come with consequences. If local police assist ICE in deportation “word gets out in the immigrant community and immigrants become scared to interact with the police if they are a victim of crime or a witness to it.” In contrast, if local police do not assist ICE “The state can also step in and take away the funding streams from the local police.” President Trump has also recently signed an executive order “that opens the door to withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities.”

Ultimately, this situation “puts local law enforcement in a lose-lose situation. For them it could be between choosing financial security on one hand and public safety on the other.”

Immigration And Public Safety

Starting from his first day as a candidate, President Donald Trump has made demonstrably false claims associating immigrants with criminality. As president, he has sought to justify restrictive immigration policies, such as increasing detentions and deportations and building a southern border wall, as public safety measures. 

He has also linked immigrants with crime through an Executive Order directing the Attorney General to establish a task force to assist in “developing strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime,” and by directing the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to assist and publicize victims of crimes committed by immigrants.

By surveying key research on immigration and crime, this report seeks to enable the public and policymakers to engage in a more meaningful policy debate rooted in facts. Immigrants’ impact on public safety is a well-examined field of study.

A rigorous body of research supports the following conclusions about the recent impact of immigrants in the United States:

  • Immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens.
  • Higher levels of immigration in recent decades may have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates
  • Police chiefs believe that intensifying immigration law enforcement undermines public safety.
  • Immigrants are under-represented in U.S. prisons.

Immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens

“Research dating back more than a century documents a pattern whereby the foreign-born are involved in crime at significantly lower rates than their peers,” note Bianca Bersani and Alex Piquero, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and a criminologist at the University of Texas, respectively.5) These scholars contribute to a vast body of research demonstrating that popular fears about immigration and crime have been unfounded.

Foreign-born individuals (“first-generation immigrants”) report lower rates of criminal offending than native-born citizens and they have less contact with the criminal justice system, as measured by arrest records. Indeed, two notable studies, highlighted in a report by the American Immigration Council, find:

  • Foreign-born individuals are less likely than native-born individuals to have engaged in violent or non-violent antisocial behaviors in their lifetimes, including harassment, assault, and acquiring multiple traffic violations, “despite being more likely to have lower levels of income, less education, and reside in urban areas.” The study’s authors add that these findings hold for immigrants from major world regions including Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Their analysis drew on survey data from a nationally representative sample of over 40,000 U.S. residents aged 18 years and older.
  • Foreign-born youth enrolled in U.S. middle and high schools in the mid-1990s had among the lowest delinquency rates when compared to their peers. These researchers focused on non-violent delinquent acts such as stealing, damaging property, or selling drugs. Their study drew on repeated surveys of over 20,000 adolescents conducted between 1994 through 2002.

When studies like these measure crime and related behavior based on self-reported accounts of behavior, they avoid biases caused by criminal justice enforcement decisions and policies. Importantly, Bersani and Piquero have shown that self-reported behavior can be reliably used to measure disparities in criminal behavior. Their comparison of self-reported crime data with official arrest records for 1,300 adolescents across seven years concluded that foreign-born individuals reported their arrests as accurately as their native-born counterparts. Therefore, “The finding that the foreign-born commit less crime than their U.S.-born peers is not a product of differences in reporting practices across these groups.”

In fact, the prevalence of foreign-born individuals among the Latino population helps to explain differences in violent crime rates between whites and Latinos. Harvard University sociologist Robert Sampson and colleagues have found that “the lower rate of violence among Mexican Americans compared with Whites was explained by a combination of married parents, living in a neighborhood with a high concentration of immigrants, and individual immigrant status.” Thus all else equal, ethnic/racial groups with a higher proportion of immigrants exhibit lower rates of crime.

Notably, integration into American society brings immigrants’ crime rates closer to the higher levels of native-born Americans, as shown in Figure 1. This occurs because the children of immigrants lose the cultural and social attributes that buffered their parents from criminal offending (as described in Part 2) and because some immigrant groups are constrained in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.


Figure 1 immigration

Source: Bersani B. E. (2014). An Examination of First and Second Generation Immigrant Offending Trajectories. Justice Quarterly (31)2, 315–343.

To what extent does the lower crime rate of foreign-born individuals hold for those who are undocumented immigrants? Major national datasets lack information on respondents’ immigration legal status, and this information has not been systematically collected by law enforcement agencies or state departments of corrections. But a few studies using other data sources to differentiate by legal status have supported the conclusion that immigrants—regardless of legal status—do not have higher crime rates than native-born citizens. For example:

  • A study comparing recidivism rates of individuals released from the Los Angeles County Jail in 2002 found no difference in the re-arrest rate of deportable and non-deportable immigrants.
  • A study of recently booked adult arrestees in Maricopa County, Arizona in 2007 and 2008, found that: “In general, illegal immigrants and legal immigrants reported about one-half the [drug] use when compared to U.S. citizens.”
  • An examination of 2010 Census data revealed that the groups who make up the bulk of the undocumented population—young, less-educated men born in Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala—have significantly lower incarceration rates than similarly situated native-born men.

In addition, as described in Part 2, the growth of the foreign-born population, including those who are undocumented, has coincided with a historic crime drop. Parts 2 and 3 show that communities that have implemented restrictive immigration policies have experienced little or no public safety benefit, while those which have embraced undocumented immigrants have sometimes outperformed the nationwide crime drop. Finally, as described in Part 4, data from federal courts—which reveal the legal status of sentenced immigrants—do not support a link between undocumented status and criminality.

Higher levels of immigration may have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates

The influx of immigrants in recent decades has coincided with a significant decline in reported crime rates, which may have been influenced by the growing immigrant population. Research has demonstrated that communities with larger immigrant populations have outpaced the public safety gains of their peers.

As shown in Figure 2, in 1990 the reported violent crime rate was 730 offenses per 100,000 residents. That same year the number of foreign-born individuals living in the United States was roughly 19.8 million (3.5 million of whom were undocumented). The violent crime rate began to fall in the mid-1990s and by 2014 it was half of its 1990 level, at 362 offenses per 100,000 residents. By that year, the foreign-born population had more than doubled, reaching 42.2 million people (including 11.1 million undocumented people).


Figure 2 immigration

Source: Brown, A. & Stepler, R. (2016). Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States. Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends; FBI’s Crime in the United States series.


Figure 3 immigration

Source: Brown, A. & Stepler, R. (April, 2016). Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States. Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends. Retrieved from statistical-portrait-of-the-foreign-born-population-in-the-united-states; U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Population Estimates. (November, 2016). Estimated Unauthorized Immigrant Population, by State, 2014. Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends; United States Census Bureau. American Fact Finder.

Although not definitive in proving causation, these trends establish a critical fact about immigrants and public safety: crime rates have fallen to historic lows amidst the growth of the foreign-born population. As described next, studies examining the impact of immigrants on their adopted communities reveal that these communities have shared in and sometimes outpaced the nationwide crime drop.

Robert Adelman, a sociologist at the University at Buffalo, and his colleagues compared crime rates in 200 metropolitan areas with varying immigrant population sizes from 1970 to 2010. They found that cities with both large and small immigrant populations generally saw a decline in violent crime rates after 1990. Furthermore, the rate at which homicide declined was much greater in cities with larger immigrant populations than in cities with smaller immigrant populations. Property crimes also decreased faster in cities with larger immigrant populations than in cities with smaller immigrant populations. This result was echoed by Graham Ousey and Charis Kubrin, of the College of William and Mary and University of California-Irvine, respectively, in their review of homicide rates between 1980 and 2010 in 156 large cities. Similar findings led University of Alabama criminologist Lesley Williams Reid and colleagues to conclude “immigration does not increase crime rates, and some aspects of immigration lessen crime in metropolitan areas.”

Research has shown that crime rates have also decreased in “gateway” cities, which are the entry point cities to the United States and often the most densely immigrant-populated places. In addition, southwestern border states and cities were found to be safer than similarly sized non-border areas in 2010.

Even at the neighborhood level, communities with larger immigrant populations have lower crime rates. One study found that people living in Chicago neighborhoods in 2005 with at least 40% immigrants were 80% less likely to experience violence than people living in neighborhoods with no immigrants. In addition, immigration was generally found to not affect homicide rates of Latinos and to have mixed effects on the rate among African Americans, according to a study that looked at the relationship between immigration and homicide from 1985 to 1995 in Miami and San Diego, and from 1985 to 1994 in El Paso.

Researchers have suggested that immigrants help lower the crime rate in their communities because of their strong familial ties, their political participation, their orientation to the justice system, and their economic impact. Because foreign-born individuals disproportionately live in two-parent households, their families contribute to their community’s level of social cohesion and organization. By providing greater oversight in their communities, immigrant families and neighbors can improve public safety. Violent crime rates also decrease when immigrants see favorable political opportunities. As they gain political representation, immigrants become further encouraged to contribute to the civic life and collective organization in their neighborhoods. Furthermore, immigrant youth tend to be less cynical about the law and perceive greater social costs resulting from involvement in the justice system compared to the native-born population. Since criminal-justice contact may also jeopardize their immigration status, immigrants who willingly came to the United States for safety and better opportunities are more likely to be law-abiding than their U.S.-born counterparts.

Finally, the economic revitalization spurred by high immigration settlement in cities has also helped to reduce crime rates. As immigrants move into American communities, they increase economic activity and thus create jobs. This economic boost makes all residents less likely to engage in criminal activities.

Police Chiefs believe intensifying immigration law enforcement undermines public safety

Sanctuary cities—colloquially—are those jurisdictions that do not ask people about their citizenship status or do not detain undocumented individuals for federal immigration authorities beyond their release date. It is important to note there are multiple definitions of sanctuary cities because none are codified under federal law. Jurisdictions cannot impede Immigration and Customs Enforcement from gathering information on citizenship status on those that they have arrested, but some cities and local police have chosen to not fully enforce immigration laws. Some jurisdictions also choose not to detain those suspected of being undocumented following a 2014 federal court ruling that held immigration detainers were not sufficient reason to keep a person in local jail absent any other offense. According to President Trump, sanctuary cities “breed crime.” However, evidence refutes this claim, and major law enforcement groups and leaders have argued that intensifying immigration enforcement interferes with public safety goals.

Research on the impact of sanctuary city policies has shown that they do not have a negative impact on crime rates. Loren Collingwood, a political scientist at the University of California-Riverside, reviewed crime data for 55 jurisdictions before and after implementing such policies, and found no meaningful effect. Research published by the Center for American Progress found lower rates of crime in comparable jurisdictions that differ only on their sanctuary status.

Jurisdictions adopt sanctuary status in part to encourage undocumented immigrants to assist law enforcement investigations. Fear of the police (due to fear of deportation) would hamper such investigations. A poll of Latinos in Southwestern California, conducted by Lake Research Partners, supports that belief: 44% of Latinos surveyed said they would be less likely to report being a victim of a crime for fear the police would ask about their documented status. Oxford University sociologist David Kirk and his colleagues found that immigrants in New York City were much less likely to assist the police if they perceived the criminal justice system as being unfair to people like themselves.

Police groups and leaders defend sanctuary city practices for reasons that echo these research findings. To reduce crime, police in cities as different as Tulsa and Los Angeles have said they would rather work with immigrants instead of taking steps to deport them, including asking about citizenship status. That position has been endorsed by the Major Cities Chiefs Association and is also supported by a briefing memo from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Law enforcement leaders have explained that engaging police in immigration enforcement work would deter crime reporting and cooperation. Rejecting President Trump’s criticism of sanctuary cities, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans has stated, “We need to build trust with the immigrant community.” He added: “The last thing we want is for people to be afraid of us … They won’t report crimes, or help us in their communities if they [are] afraid of us.”

Research revealing that aggressive immigration enforcement produces limited public safety benefit further supports the resistance of law enforcement leaders to intensified immigration law enforcement. Deportations and other tactics like the 287(g) policy (which allow local jurisdictions to enforce federal immigration statutes) have been used on immigrant communities to combat crime, but research shows that for the most part these methods were not effective in controlling crime. Northeastern University sociologist Jacob Stowell and colleagues’ analysis found that immigrant deportations did not reduce overall violent crime rates in metropolitan areas between 1994-2004, when controlling for other factors. The authors did find important regional variation: deportations lowered aggravated assault rates in border areas while increasing them in non-border areas. This suggested, they noted, that “the forced removal of individuals in non-border areas fractures the more delicate (i.e., less well established) information and resource networks, thereby undermining informal mechanisms of social control.”

Likewise, a study measuring the impact of the aggressive and well publicized 287(g) policy in Virginia’s Prince William County—which required police to check the immigration status of detainees whom they suspected to be undocumented in addition to screening jail inmates—revealed that the policy’s announcement led to a drop in aggravated assault rates, but not other types of crimes. As the authors note, it is unclear how much this outcome was attributable to changes in reporting.

Immigrants are Under-Represented in U.S. Prisons

Non-citizens currently make up six percent of the U.S. prison population while comprising seven percent of the total U.S. population. Non-citizens are therefore slightly underrepresented in U.S. prisons. Some immigration opponents have presented a partial picture of the federal prison system to suggest the opposite. As this section illustrates, non-citizens are increasingly over-represented in federal sentencing and incarceration due to a rise in prison sentences for immigration offenses.

Among the 1.5 million people imprisoned in state and federal prisons, 87% are held in state institutions. Within state prisons, four percent are non-citizens. Within federal prisons, however, 22% are non-citizens. According to the Bureau of Prisons, immigration law violations were the most serious offense for one-third of non-citizens serving federal prison sentences. As explained next through an examination of federal sentences, the increased use of imprisonment for immigration law violations is a major driver of the over-representation of non-citizens receiving federal sentences.


Figure 4 immigration

Note: State numbers are from December 2015 and federal numbers are from December 2016. States that did not not report citizenship data (Alaska, California, Nevada, and Oregon) are omitted.
Source: Carson, E. A. & Anderson, E. (2016). Prisoners in 2015. United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics; Federal Bureau of Prisons. (2017). Inmate Citizenship.

In the most recent years for which data are available, state courts imposed 1,132,290 felony sentences (in 2005) and federal courts imposed 71,003 sentences (in 2015). In 2015, 29% of federal sentences were for immigration offenses. It is important to note that the total number of federal immigration sentences has doubled between 2000 and 2015, increasing from 11,403 to 20,757, during a period in which sentences for other crimes increased by just seven percent. In its analysis of federal criminal cases in 2015, the Unites States Sentencing Commission noted that 82% of immigration cases involved “unlawful reentry into the United States or unlawfully remaining in the United States without authority” and another 12% involved transporting undocumented people across the border.

While non-U.S. citizens received a substantial share (42%) of all federal sentences in 2015, most of these sentences (66%) were for immigration law violations. Congressional proposals endorsed by the Trump administration would further increase penalties and create mandatory minimum sentences for illegal re-entry into the United States. If passed, the new sentences would significantly increase the number of non-citizens serving prison sentences for immigration offenses.


Figure 5 Immigration

Note: Violent offenses were defined based on the United States Sentencing Commission’s Supplement to the 2015 Manual Guide: murder, manslaughter, assault, kidnapping/hostage taking, sex offense, robbery, arson, racketeering/extortion, and firearm offenses. Source: United States Sentencing Commission. 2015 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. Table 9: Citizenship of Offenders in Each Primary Offense Category.

After immigration law violations, drug convictions were the next largest category of federal offenses of which non-citizens were sentenced (24%). In contrast, drug offenses accounted for 38% of federal sentences for U.S. citizens.

Undocumented immigrants who receive federal criminal sentences are even more likely to be convicted of an immigration law violation as their most serious offense. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of the 25,670 undocumented immigrants sentenced in federal criminal courts in 2015 were convicted of an immigration offense. In addition, in that year:

  • Twenty percent of undocumented immigrants who received federal sentences were convicted of drug offenses (5,218 sentences). As noted above, drug offenses accounted for 38% of federal sentences for U.S. citizens.
  • Six undocumented immigrants received federal sentences for murder and manslaughter. This comprised .02% of federal sentences for this group (in contrast to .3% for U.S. citizens). Seen another way, undocumented individuals accounted for 4% of the 143 federal sentences for these offenses. U.S. citizens, in contrast, received 88% of these sentences (126 sentences).

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster has reflected on these outcomes based on his first-hand experience serving as a visiting judge in New Mexico. He noted that of the 200 undocumented immigrants he sentenced, none were convicted of murder, rape, or terrorism. He added: “These are just people who want to be with their family or support their family.”


Before and after his election, Donald Trump has raised concerns about increasing crime and immigration in the United States. Indeed, he has signed an executive order and made regular statements alleging that curbs to unauthorized immigration and dismantling sanctuary cities would reduce U.S. crime rates. The evidence presented here concludes otherwise.

A century of research has shown immigrants do not threaten public safety and, in fact, are less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens. False statements about immigrant criminality contribute to unfounded public fears that threaten the safety of immigrants and U.S. citizens. Improving public safety is a complicated question that cannot be addressed by scapegoating foreign-born residents but rather by investing in effective community-based solutions that address the true causes of crime.

The full report with citations can be found here.

Immigration And Naturalization Law Through The Years

Americans encouraged relatively free and open immigration during the 18th and early 19th centuries, and rarely questioned that policy until the late 1800s. After certain states passed immigration laws following the Civil War, the Supreme Court in 1875 declared regulation of immigration a federal responsibility. Thus, as the number of immigrants rose in the 1880s and economic conditions in some areas worsened, Congress began to pass immigration legislation.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Alien Contract Labor laws of 1885 and 1887 prohibited certain laborers from immigrating to the United States. The general Immigration Act of 1882 levied a head tax of fifty cents on each immigrant and blocked (or excluded) the entry of idiots, lunatics, convicts, and persons likely to become a public charge.

These national immigration laws created the need for new federal enforcement authorities. In the 1880s, state boards or commissions enforced immigration law with direction from U.S. Treasury Department officials. At the Federal level, U.S. Customs Collectors at each port of entry collected the head tax from immigrants while “Chinese Inspectors” enforced the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Origins of the Federal Immigration Service

The federal government assumed direct control of inspecting, admitting, rejecting, and processing all immigrants seeking admission to the United States with the Immigration Act of 1891. The 1891 Act also expanded the list of excludable classes, barring the immigration of polygamists, persons convicted of crimes of moral turpitude, and those suffering loathsome or contagious diseases.

The national government’s new immigration obligations and its increasingly complex immigration laws required a dedicated federal enforcement agency to regulate immigration. Accordingly, the 1891 Immigration Act created the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration within the Treasury Department. The Superintendent oversaw a new corps of U.S. Immigrant Inspectors stationed at the country’s principal ports of entry.

Federal Immigration Stations – On January 2, 1892, the Immigration Service opened the U.S.’s best known immigration station on Ellis Island in New York Harbor. The enormous station housed inspection facilities, hearing and detention rooms, hospitals, cafeterias, administrative offices, railroad ticket offices, and representatives of many immigrant aid societies. America’s largest and busiest port of entry for decades, Ellis Island station employed 119 of the Immigration Service’s entire staff of 180 in 1893.

The Service built additional immigrant stations at other principal ports of entry through the early 20th century. At New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other traditional ports of entry, the Immigration Service hired many Immigrant Inspectors who previously worked for state agencies. At other ports, both old and new, the Service built an Inspector corps by hiring former Customs Inspectors and Chinese Inspectors, and training recruits.

Implementing A National Immigration Policy – During its first decade, the Immigration Service formalized basic immigration procedures and made its first attempts to enforce a national immigration policy. The Immigration Service began collecting arrival manifests (also frequently called passenger lists or immigration arrival records) from each incoming ship, a former duty of the U.S. Customs Service since 1820. Inspectors then questioned arrivals about their admissibility and noted their admission or rejection on the manifest records.

Beginning in 1893, Inspectors also served on Boards of Special Inquiry that closely reviewed each exclusion case. Inspectors often initially excluded aliens who were likely to become public charges because they lacked funds or had no friends or relatives nearby. In these cases, the Board of Special Inquiry usually admitted the alien if someone could post bond or one of the immigrant aid societies would accept responsibility for the alien.

Detention guards and matrons cared for detained persons pending decisions in their cases or, if the decision was negative, awaiting deportation. The Immigration Service deported aliens denied admission by the Board of Special Inquiry at the expense of the transportation company that brought them to the port.

Enhanced Responsibilities – Congress continued to exert Federal control over immigration with the Act of March 2, 1895, which promoted the Office of Immigration to the Bureau of Immigration and changed the agency head’s title from Superintendent to Commissioner-General of Immigration. The Act of June 6, 1900, consolidated immigration enforcement by assigning enforcement of both Alien Contract Labor laws and Chinese Exclusion laws to the Commissioner-General.

Because most immigration laws of the time sought to protect American workers and wages, an Act of February 14, 1903, transferred the Bureau of Immigration from the Treasury Department to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor. An “immigrant fund” created from collection of immigrants’ head tax financed the Immigration Service until 1909, when Congress replaced the fund with an annual appropriation.

Origins of the Federal Naturalization Service

At the beginning of the 20th century, federal attention next turned to standardizing naturalization procedures nationwide. Congress previously delegated its constitutional authority to establish “an uniform Rule of Naturalization” to the judiciary for over a century. Under the decentralized system established by the Naturalization Act of 1802, “any court of record” – Federal, state, county, or municipal – could naturalize a new American citizen. In 1905, a commission charged with investigating naturalization practice reported an alarming lack of uniformity among the nation’s more than 5,000 naturalization courts. Individual courts exercised naturalization authority without central supervision and with little guidance from Congress concerning the proper interpretation of its naturalization laws. Each court determined its own naturalization requirements, set its own fees, followed its own naturalization procedures, and issued its own naturalization certificate. This absence of uniformity made confirming a person’s citizenship status very difficult, resulting in widespread naturalization fraud. The naturalization of large groups of aliens before elections caused particular concern.

Standardizing Naturalization Nationwide – Congress enacted the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 to restore dignity and uniformity to the naturalization process. The 1906 law framed the fundamental rules that governed naturalization for most of the 20th century. That legislation also created the Federal Naturalization Service to oversee the nation’s naturalization courts. Congress placed this new agency in the Bureau of Immigration, expanding it into the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.

To normalize naturalization procedures, the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 required standard naturalization forms and encouraged state and local courts to give up their naturalization jurisdiction to federal courts. To prevent fraud, the new federal Naturalization Service collected copies of every naturalization record issued by every naturalization court across the country. Bureau officials also checked immigration records to verify each applicant’s legal admission into the United States.

The Independent Bureau of Naturalization – In 1913, the Naturalization Service began its two decades as an independent Bureau. That year saw the Department of Commerce and Labor divided into separate cabinet departments and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization split into the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization. The two bureaus coexisted separately within the new Department of Labor until reunited as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 1933.

Encouraging Citizenship – A grassroots Americanization movement popular before World War I influenced developments in the Naturalization Bureau during the 1920s. The Bureau published its first Federal Textbook on Citizenship in 1918 to prepare naturalization applicants. Its Education for Citizenship program distributed the textbooks to public schools offering citizenship education classes and notified eligible aliens of available education opportunities.

Increasing Oversight of Naturalization Courts – Legislation of 1926 established the designated examiner system which assigned a Naturalization Examiner to each federal naturalization court. The Naturalization Examiners interviewed applicants, made recommendations to judges, and monitored proceedings. This direct interaction with the courts further advanced the fairness and uniformity of the naturalization process nationwide.

Mass Immigration and WWI

The Immigration Service continued evolving as the United States experienced rising immigration during the early years of the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1920 the nation admitted over 14.5 million immigrants.

Concerns mass immigration and its impact on the country began to change Americans’ historically open attitude toward immigration. Congress strengthened national immigration law with new legislation in 1903 and 1907. Meanwhile, a Presidential Commission investigated the causes of massive emigration out of Southern and Eastern Europe and the Congressional Dillingham Commission studied conditions among immigrants in the United States. These commissions’ reports influenced the writing and passage of the Immigration Act of 1917.

Among its other provisions, the 1917 Act required that immigrants be able to read and write in their native language, obligating the Immigration Service to begin administering literacy tests. Another change, the introduction of pre-inspection and more-rigorous medical examinations at the point of departure saved time for people passing through some American ports of entry and reduced the number of excluded immigrants.

Wartime Challenges – The outbreak of World War I greatly reduced immigration from Europe but also imposed new duties on the Immigration Service. Internment of enemy aliens (primarily seamen who worked on captured enemy ships) became a Service responsibility. Passport requirements imposed by a 1918 Presidential Proclamation increased agency paperwork during immigrant inspection and deportation activities. The passport requirement also disrupted routine traffic across United States’ land borders with Canada and Mexico. Consequently, the Immigration Service began to issue Border Crossing Cards.

Era of Restriction

Mass immigration resumed after the First World War. Congress responded with a new immigration policy, the national origins quota system. Established by Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924, the national origins system numerically limited immigration for the first time in United States history. Each nationality received a quota based on its representation in past United States census figures. The State Department distributed a limited number of visas each year through U.S. Embassies abroad and the Immigration Service only admitted immigrants who arrived with a valid visa.

Birth of the Border Patrol and Board of Review – Severely restricted immigration often results increased illegal immigration. In response to rising numbers of illegal entries and alien smuggling, especially along land borders, in 1924 Congress created the U.S. Border Patrol within the Immigration Service.

The strict new immigration policy coupled with Border Patrol successes shifted more agency staff and resources to deportation activity. Rigorous enforcement of immigration law at ports of entry also increased appeals under the law. This led to creation of the Immigration Board of Review within the Immigration Bureau in the mid-1920s. (The Board of Review became the Board of Immigration Appeals after moving to the Justice Department in the 1940s, and since 1983 has been known as the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).)

United Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) – Executive Order 6166 of June 10, 1933, reunited the Bureau of Immigration and Bureau of Naturalization into one agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Consolidation resulted in significant reduction of the agency’s workforce achieved through merit testing and application of Civil Service examination procedures.

The agency’s focus shifted towards law enforcement as immigration volume dropped significantly during the Great Depression. Through the 1930s, INS dedicated more resources to investigation, exclusion, prevention of illegal entries, deportation of criminal and subversive aliens, and cooperating closely with the Department of Justice’s United States Attorneys and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in prosecuting violations of immigration and nationality laws.

World War II

The threat of war in Europe, and a growing view of immigration as a national security rather than an economic issue, reshaped the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) mission. In 1940, Presidential Reorganization Plan Number V moved the INS from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice.

The United States’ entry into World War II brought additional change as many Service personnel enlisted in the Armed Forces. This left INS short of experienced staff. At the same time, INS Headquarters temporarily moved to Philadelphia for the course of the war.

Aiding the War Effort – New national security duties led to the INS’ rapid growth through World War II. The agency’s workforce doubled from approximately 4,000 to 8,000 employees as INS instituted the following programs in support of the war effort:

  • Recording and fingerprinting every alien in the United States through the Alien Registration Program;
  • Organizing and operating internment camps and detention facilities for enemy aliens;
  • Increased Border Patrol operations;
  • Record checks related to security clearances for immigrant defense workers; and
  • Administration of a program to import agricultural laborers to harvest the crops left behind by American workers who went to war.

During the war the INS was relieved the responsibility of enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act, which Congress repealed in 1943. Other war-time developments included conversion to a new record-keeping system and implementation of the Nationality Act of 1940.

Post-War Years

Immigration remained relatively low following World War II because the numerical limitations imposed by the 1920s national origins system remained in place. However, humanitarian crises spawned by the conflict and United States burgeoning international presence in the post-war world brought new challenges for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Providing Humanitarian Relief – Many INS programs in the 1940s and 1950s addressed individuals affected by conditions in postwar Europe. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and Refugee Relief Act of 1953 allowed for admission of many refugees displaced by the war and unable to come to the United States under regular immigration procedures. With the onset of the Cold War, the Hungarian Refugee Act of 1956, Refugee Escapee Act of 1957, and Cuban Adjustment Program of the 1960s served the same purpose for “escapees” from communist countries. Other post-war INS programs facilitated family reunification. The War Brides Act of 1945 and the Fiancées Act of 1946 eased admission of the spouses and families of returning American soldiers.

The Bracero Program – The World War II temporary worker program continued after the war under a 1951 formal agreement between Mexico and the United States. Like its wartime predecessor the Mexican Agricultural Labor Program (“MALP”), commonly called the “Bracero Program,” matched seasonal agricultural workers from Mexico with approved American employers. Between 1951 and 1968, hundreds of thousands of braceros entered the country each year as non-immigrant laborers.

Enforcing Immigration Laws – By the mid-1950s, INS enforcement activities focused on two areas of national concern. Public alarm over illegal aliens resident and working in the United States caused the Service to strengthen border controls and launch targeted deportation programs including the controversial “Operation Wetback,” a 1954 Mexican Border enforcement initiative. Additional worry over criminal aliens within the country prompted INS investigation and deportation of communists, subversives, and organized crime figures.

Reforming Immigration Policy – Congress re-codified and combined all previous immigration and naturalization law into the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952. The 1952 law removed all racial barriers to immigration and naturalization and granted the same preference to husbands as it did to wives of American citizens. However, the INA retained the national origins quotas.

In 1965 amendments to the 1952 immigration law, Congress replaced the national origins system with a preference system designed to reunite immigrant families and attract skilled immigrants to the United States. This change to national policy responded to changes in the sources of immigration since 1924. By the mid-20th century, the majority of applicants for immigration visas came from Asia and Central and South America rather than Europe. The preference system continued to limit the number of immigration visas available each year, however, and Congress still responded to refugees with special legislation, as it did for Indochinese refugees in the 1970s. Not until the Refugee Act of 1980 did the United States have a general policy governing the admission of refugees.

Late 20th Century

As in the past, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) adapted to new challenges which emerged during the 1980s and 90s. Changes in world migration patterns, the ease of modern international travel, and a growing emphasis on controlling illegal immigration all shaped the development of INS through the closing decades of the 20th century.

Adopting New Approaches to Immigration Law Enforcement – INS’s responsibilities expanded under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. IRCA charged the INS with enforcing sanctions against United States employers who hired undocumented aliens. Carrying out employer sanction duties involved investigating, prosecuting, and levying fines against corporate and individual employers, as well as deportation of those found to be working illegally. The 1986 law also allowed certain aliens illegally in the U.S. to legalize their residence. INS administered that legalization program.

The Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT 90) retooled the immigrant selection system once again. IMMACT 90 increased the number of available immigrant visas and revised the preference categories governing permanent legal immigration. Immigrant visas were divided into 3 separate categories: family-sponsored, employment-based, and “diversity” immigrants selected by lottery from countries with low immigration volumes.

The 1990 Act also established an administrative procedure for naturalization and ended judicial naturalization. Under the act, authorized INS administrative officials could grant or deny naturalization petitions.

Dawning of a New Millennium – The INS workforce, which numbered approximately 8,000 from World War II through the late 1970s, increased to more than 30,000 employees in thirty-six INS districts at home and abroad by turn of the 21st century. The original force of Immigrant Inspectors evolved into a corps of specialist officers focused on individual elements of the agency’s mission. As it entered its second century, INS employees:

  • Enforced laws providing for selective immigration and controlled entry of tourists, business travelers, and other temporary visitors;
  • Inspected and admitted arrivals at land, sea, and air ports of entry;
  • Administered benefits such as naturalization and permanent resident status;
  • Granted asylum to refugees;
  • Patrolled the nation’s borders; and
  • Apprehended and removed aliens who entered illegally, violated the requirements of their stay, or threatened the safety of the people of the United States.


The events of September 11, 2001, injected new urgency into INS’ mission and initiated another shift in the United States’ immigration policy. The emphasis of American immigration law enforcement became border security and removing criminal aliens to protect the nation from terrorist attacks. At the same time the United States retained its commitment to welcoming lawful immigrants and supporting their integration and participation in American civic culture.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 disbanded INS on March 1, 2003. Its constituent parts contributed to 3 new federal agencies serving under the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

  1. Customs and Border Protection (CBP),
  2. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and
  3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

CBP prevents drugs, weapons, and terrorists and other inadmissible persons from entering the country. ICE enforces criminal and civil laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration. USCIS oversees lawful immigration to the United States and naturalization of new American citizens. Although now separate, these agencies continue to cooperate, benefitting from and building upon the legacy of INS.

Effects Of Unauthorized Immigration On The Actuarial Status Of The Social Security Trust Funds

This actuarial note provides information related to projections of the effects of unauthorized immigrants on the U.S. labor force, and more specifically on the actuarial status of the Social Security (OASI and DI) Trust Funds. We have been modeling this important, yet elusive, population for many years.

We reported on these effects in a letter to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin in 2007. The nature and characteristics of this population have changed over the last decade and so we have modified our methods to better account for work activity and potential benefit receipt by unauthorized immigrants. All estimates and analysis reflect the intermediate assumptions and methods developed for the 2012 Trustees Reports.

The balance of this note provides:

  • A brief review of the nature of unauthorized immigration, how it has changed, and how our modeling has evolved;
  • A detailed discussion of the effects of unauthorized immigration on Social Security’s actuarial status;
  • Answers to some important questions regarding undocumented immigrants; and
  • A list of the major laws affecting both unauthorized immigrants and Social Security.

A Brief Review of Unauthorized Immigration

Legal immigration into the United States has been a major source of population growth and diversity. For over a century, legal immigration has been regulated and the numbers of legal immigrants have been limited by a succession of laws. Unauthorized immigration into the U.S. results from entering the country without legal authorization and from overstaying temporary visas. Both forms of immigration have contributed substantially to the population, directly and indirectly. The indirect contribution refers to the fact that children born in the U.S. to these immigrants are U.S. citizens. For the purpose of this discussion, we use the following terms:

  • Legal immigrants – U.S. residents born outside the U.S. who have been granted legal permanent resident (LPR) status or have become naturalized citizens.
  • Other immigrants – U.S. residents born outside the U.S. who have not attained LPR status or citizenship (this group includes those with temporary legal visas).
  • Unauthorized immigrants – Other immigrants residing in the U.S. without current papers documenting their legal status (i.e., either they entered the U.S. without legal documentation or they overstayed temporary visas).
  • Unauthorized workers – Other immigrants working in the U.S. without current visas granting them authorization to work.

In the beginning of 1989, there were an estimated 5 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) allowed unauthorized immigrants who could prove they had been residing here for 5 years to apply for LPR status. From 1989 through 1991, about half of these unauthorized immigrants were granted LPR status under IRCA. Since the mid 1990’s, however, the estimated number of persons entering the U.S. without authorization has averaged over 1 million per year, and the estimated number of unauthorized immigrants now totals more than 10 million. Individuals leave unauthorized status both by leaving the U.S. (emigration) and by applying for, and being granted, LPR status. In fact, about half of the individuals granted LPR status each year are estimated to come from the other immigrant population. Most of these individuals are residing as temporary legal immigrants with visas or have overstayed visas, rather than coming from the population that has never had temporary legal status.

In 2008, the Office of the Chief Actuary (OCACT) completely restructured the projection method for the other immigrant population. This restructuring had two objectives. The first was to model separately the annual flows of individuals: (1) entering the country in other immigrant status; (2) converting from other immigrant status to LPR status; and (3) leaving the U.S. from the other immigrant population. The second objective was to reflect administrative changes made by the Social Security Administration (SSA) since 2001, which made it more difficult for unauthorized immigrants to obtain Social Security numbers (SSN) through illegitimate means. Since 2001, SSA greatly increased scrutiny of applications for an SSN after birth, which reduced the incidence of illegitimate receipt of an SSN. For other immigrants entering the U.S. in 2001 and earlier, we assume that about one-third attained apparently legitimate SSNs through illegitimate means. For unauthorized immigrants entering the country after 2001, we believe that the granting of SSNs based on illegitimate documentation has been greatly reduced.

Laws enacted in 1996 and 2004 make Social Security benefits unavailable to unauthorized immigrants residing in the U.S. and to any noncitizen without a workauthorized SSN at some point in time. We project that these laws will significantly reduce benefit receipt among persons who remain in the unauthorized immigrant population in the future.

How The Participation Of Unauthorized Workers Affects Social Secuirty’s Financial Position

For the annual Trustees Reports, the President’s Budget, and other documents, OCACT projects the numbers of unauthorized immigrants residing in the United States, their earnings, and the implications of these earnings on Social Security financing. Our projections assume that unauthorized residents work at about the same rate as the rest of the population by age and sex, but earnings are less likely to be reported as taxable and even less likely to be credited for future benefit entitlement. Thus, our projections suggest that the presence of unauthorized workers in the United States has, on average, a positive effect on the financial status of the Social Security program. For the year 2010,1 we estimate that 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.

While we cannot determine the precise effect on Social Security financing of earnings of unauthorized immigrants, program data fully capture this effect. The current overall financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds is well known, and it provides an excellent base upon which to make projections for the future. The difficulty lies in determining what portion of total taxes paid to and benefits received from the Social Security Trust Funds derive from the earnings of these immigrants. We can only estimate these amounts using the best available information.

Beyond the taxes paid and benefits received by unauthorized workers, the larger effect on the long-term actuarial status of the OASDI Trust Funds derives from the children born in the U.S. to these immigrants. These children are natural born citizens and add to the growth in the overall U.S. population. This contribution to future generations of workers is the largest part of the effect on the actuarial status both for legal and other immigrants.

Earnings of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States

The Census Bureau estimates that the number of people living in the U.S. who were foreign born and not U.S. citizens was 21.7 million in January 2009. Of these, 12.6 million individuals were not legal permanent residents of the U.S. We refer to this group as other immigrants (other than legal permanent resident immigrants). Of this number, about 10.8 million resided in the U.S. in an unauthorized status. The remaining other immigrants resided in the U.S. in a temporary authorized status (for example students and workers with temporary visas).

In order to make projections of the financial status of the Social Security program, OCACT projects the number of other immigrants who are working under various classifications. OCACT assumes that other immigrants are as likely to work as legal permanent residents of the same age and sex. The estimated number of other immigrants working is 8.3 million in 2010. OCACT estimates 0.6 million of the 8.3 million other immigrant workers in 2010 had temporary work authorized at some point in the past and have overstayed the term of their visas. In addition, OCACT estimates that 0.7 million unauthorized workers in 2010 obtained fraudulent birth certificates at some point in the past and these birth certificates allowed the workers to get an SSN. Combining these two groups with the 1.3 million current visa holders with temporary authorization, we estimate 2.7 million other immigrants have SSNs in their name and thus can work, pay taxes, and have earnings credited to their record for potential benefits in the future.

OCACT estimates 1.8 million other immigrants worked and used an SSN that did not match their name in 2010. Their earnings may be credited to someone else’s record (when the SSN and name submitted to the employer match Social Security records) or may be credited to the Earnings Suspense File (when submitted with nonmatching SSN and name). Finally, OCACT estimates 3.9 million other immigrants worked in the underground economy in 2010.

Eliminating the current visa holders with temporary authorization (1.3 million other immigrants with legal work authorization), and those in the underground economy (3.9 million unauthorized workers), we estimate that there are about 3.1 million unauthorized immigrants working and paying Social Security taxes in 2010. With the average amount of OASDI taxable earnings for these immigrants assumed to be about 80 percent of the average level for all workers, we estimate $13 billion in payroll taxes from unauthorized immigrant workers and their employers in 2010.

Benefits Based on Earnings by Unauthorized Immigrants

Estimating the portion of all 2010 OASDI benefit payments that will be based on prior unauthorized earnings is even more problematic than estimating current unauthorized earnings. In general, we believe that the evidence indicates a relatively small portion of those who potentially could draw benefits do so.

The principal category of unauthorized immigrants who can currently draw a Social Security benefit includes those who have overstayed visas, or obtained an SSN through illegitimate means. For January 1, 2010, we estimate that there were 720 thousand other immigrants aged 62 and over. Assuming: (1) about 25 percent of these immigrants meet the insured requirements and have a functional SSN matching their name; and (2) they have a monthly benefit level about half the average, we estimate about 180 thousand beneficiaries received roughly $1 billion in benefits in 2010.

Three additional categories of workers account for a relatively small amount of the total OASDI benefit payments. First, individuals who began receiving benefits before 1997 and never obtained authorization to work, could potentially be receiving benefits. However, they met the difficult challenge of documenting their past earnings and establishing the earnings as taxable. Second, individuals who never obtained authorization to work, received an SSN before 2004, and now live abroad could potentially receive a benefit. However, they would have similar challenges in documenting past earnings. Third, individuals who currently have authorization to work but did not have authorization while residing here in the past would find it difficult to document the earlier earnings. In each of these cases, the requirement to document ownership of reported taxable earnings in the past is a high hurdle, and meeting this requirement seems to be more the exception than the rule.

Overall, therefore, we estimate that about $1 billion of OASDI benefit payments for 2010 derive from earnings in years where the worker was unauthorized.


While unauthorized immigrants worked and contributed as much as $13 billion in payroll taxes to the OASDI program in 2010, only about $1 billion in benefit payments during 2010 are attributable to unauthorized work. Thus, we estimate that earnings by unauthorized immigrants result in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status generally, and that this effect contributed roughly $12 billion to the cash flow of the program for 2010. We estimate that future years will experience a continuation of this positive impact on the trust funds.

While we expect the size of the unauthorized population to grow further in the future, several changes would limit the reporting of their earnings as taxable. Among these are issuance of SSNs at birth in recent years and greater scrutiny of birth certificates for individuals who only apply for SSNs at working ages. In addition, recent legislation requires that other immigrants receiving an SSN after 2003 cannot receive benefits unless the worker had legal work authorization at some point before retiring. Another recent change is the creation of a national-wide earnings verification system, which allows employers to check the legal status of their employees. While these changes will alter the future impact of earnings by unauthorized immigrants on the trust funds, we still expect significant effects that will benefit the financial status of the programs.

Answers To Specific Questions On Unauthorized Immigration

Question: To what extent has the economic downturn (that began in 2007) changed immigration trends in the U.S.?

Response: The economic downturn did not affect the number of persons attaining legal immigrant status, as there are always more applicants than can be allowed under the legal limits. However, the downturn did affect the numbers of other immigrants entering and leaving the country. For the intermediate projection of the 2008 Trustees Report (these projections did not include the downturn), we assumed 1.5 million other immigrants would enter the country in 2009. We now estimate that about 700 thousand other immigrants entered the country in 2009. In addition, due to the recession, we estimate that the number of other immigrants leaving the country was elevated in 2009, leaving only 40,000 net other immigrants for the year. We expect the effects of the recession on the number of other immigrants entering and leaving the country to be temporary. For 2015, we expect the number entering the country to return to 1.5 million and the net other immigration to be about 500,000.

Question: What is the total number of unauthorized workers now participating in the U.S. economy? How has this number changed in the past and how will it change in the future?

Response: We estimate that the number of unauthorized workers grew from 4.8 million in 2000 to 8.0 million in 2007, the peak of the last business cycle. The economy then fell into recession and the estimated number of unauthorized workers declined to 7.0 million in 2010. We project that the economy will recover and that the number of unauthorized workers will rise to 9.6 million in 2020.

Question: What is the number of workers who are entering the country illegally? What is the number of workers who have overstayed their visas? How have these numbers changed?

Response: The number of persons residing in the country without current legal authorization grew during the period 1990 to 2006 and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated the stock of unauthorized immigrants to be 11.8 million as of January 1, 2007. However, DHS estimated that this number declined to 10.8 million as of January 1, 2009. After the recovery from the recession, we assume the annual number of other immigrants (unauthorized and temporary visas) entering the U.S. will be 1.5 million per year. However, we assume that about one-third of those entering the country (largely those who have temporary visas or overstay temporary visas) will gain LPR status within a few years, and that the majority of the remaining 1 million other immigrants will eventually leave the country. We estimate the number of other immigrants who have entered the country legally with a temporary visa, have overstayed their visa (work or student), and are working using their legitimately acquired SSN to be 0.6 million in 2010, slightly above the 2000 level of 0.5 million.

Question: How many of the unauthorized workers have an SSN issued in their name and how many are reporting earnings under invalid numbers?

Response: Before 1980, many unauthorized workers obtained SSNs in their name using fraudulent identification, particularly birth certificates. After 2001, however, SSA became far more vigilant on identification, and the number of persons obtaining SSNs with fraudulent identification should now be relatively small. We estimate 0.7 million unauthorized workers in 2010 were working using fraudulent identification (most with SSNs obtained before 2001), and we project this number to decrease to less than 0.2 million in 2040. Increasingly in the future, earnings reported to SSA for unauthorized workers will be reported with an illegitimate SSN. In this case, the reported earnings show up with a mismatch between name and SSN and thus would be assigned to the Earnings Suspense File. Due to this mismatch, the worker (and employer) would be paying payroll taxes, but the earnings would not be credited toward later receipt of benefits. Our estimate for the current stock of these immigrants is 1.8 million in 2010, rising to 3.4 million by 2040.

Question: How many unauthorized workers are employed in the underground economy? How has this number changed in the past and how will it change in the future?

Response: The estimated number of unauthorized workers who are employed in the underground economy grew from 2.2 million in 2000 to 3.9 million in 2010. We project the number of these workers to grow to 9.0 million in 2040.

Wage reporting and wage levels

Question: Of the unauthorized workers paying OASDI taxes, what is the average level of earnings upon which the taxes are levied and how does that level compare with the broader U.S. labor force?

Response: We assume the average level of taxable earnings for these unauthorized workers equals about 80 percent of the average level for all workers. For 2010, we estimate this average level for these unauthorized workers to be about $34,000.

Question: What is the dollar amount of payroll taxes paid by unauthorized workers and their employers for the latest tax year?

Response: We estimate $13 billion in OASDI payroll taxes from unauthorized immigrant workers and their employers in 2010. This number reflects earnings for those with no recorded SSN, those who have obtained an SSN with fraudulent identification, and those with legitimate SSNs who have overstayed temporary visas.

Question: Does information in the Social Security Earnings Suspense File (ESF) provide insights into unauthorized workers’ labor force participation and earnings? What dollar amount or percentage of earnings in the ESF is the result of unauthorized work? How many items posted to the ESF are from unauthorized work? Since both legal and illegal workers may hold several jobs in any tax reporting year, how does that affect the estimate of unauthorized wage items and earnings reported by unauthorized workers?

Response: Viewing the history of the ESF, we attempt to separate the total dollar amount of taxable wages for each year between unauthorized workers and the rest of the population. However, because we cannot identify which individual “wage items” are for unauthorized immigrants and which are for legal residents, we have no way to determine specifically either the number of wage items reported per worker or the average total annual earnings per worker represented on the ESF. Historically, both the unauthorized population and the percent of total reported earnings that goes to the ESF have been rising and we estimate a continuation of these trends. We estimate earnings in the ESF for unauthorized immigrants will increase from less than 1 percent of total taxable payroll in 2000 to about 2 percent in 2040.

Benefits based on earnings by unauthorized workers

Question: How many unauthorized workers receive benefits from Social Security? How many fall under the category of overstayed visa or an SSN obtained through illegitimate means? What is their benefit level, their insured status, and the total amount of benefits they receive compared to authorized workers? What are the trends over time? How will these trends change in the future?

Response: Individuals who enter the country as unauthorized immigrants and remain in that status for life are relatively unlikely to receive benefits from the OASDI program. Those who work in the underground economy have no basis for expecting to be entitled for benefits. Those who have worked and paid payroll taxes without a matched SSN will have had their earnings placed in the suspense file and will have only a relatively remote possibility of obtaining credit for these earnings for the purpose of becoming entitled to a benefit. The relatively small and declining number of unauthorized immigrants who have an SSN with earnings credited in their name, may receive benefits in the future. However, to receive benefits they must meet the following three conditions: (1) work long enough to acquire insured status under the program; (2) receive legal work authorization at some time; and (3) receive legal resident status for the time of their benefit entitlement or, if not, are willing to leave the U.S. to receive a benefit.

Question: What categories of persons, who are or were unauthorized workers, may be eligible for benefits if they can document past earnings? To what degree are they successful in documenting such earnings?

Response: We estimate about 30 percent of the other immigrants who were living in the U.S. and were age 62 in 2000, would be eligible to receive retired-worker benefits. We project that the percent eligible to receive a retired-worker benefit will decline to around 10 percent at the end of the 75- year projection period. In addition, SSA authorized about 0.5 million checks to persons living abroad in December 2010. However, most of these individuals are U.S. citizens living abroad or persons receiving benefits under totalization agreements with other countries (based on authorized work).

Major Laws Affecting Unauthorized Immigration And Social Security

Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 allowed about ½ of the undocumented population in 1987 to become legal permanent residents over the period 1989-1991.

Effective December 1, 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 prohibits SSA from paying monthly Title II benefits to noncitizens who are in the United States for any month during which they are not lawfully authorized to be in the country. After 2000, SSA became more vigilant in issuing SSNs. Since September 2002, SSA verifies noncitizens’ immigration status with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before assigning an original SSN or issuing a replacement SSN card.

The Social Security Protection Act of 2004 restricts SSA from authorizing Title II benefits to noncitizen workers who received an original Social Security number (SSN) after January 1, 2004 unless they were issued an SSN for work purposes or were admitted into the United States as a nonimmigrant visitor for business or as an alien crewman.

The original report can be found here.