In Hillary Clinton’s America, “illegal immigrants … [are] collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line.”
–voice-over in a Donald Trump campaign ad, Aug. 19, 2016

The Donald Trump campaign released its first political ad of the general election, focused on immigration. It begins with a hypothetical situation of what immigration would look like under Democrat Hillary Clinton’s America.

The narrator says: “In Hillary Clinton’s America, the system stays rigged against Americans. Syrian refugees flood in. Illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay. Collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line. Our border open. It’s more of the same, but worse.”

Is the claim about undocumented immigrants collecting Social Security benefits accurate?

The Facts

The ad cites a report on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs by the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes illegal immigration. It also refers to Clinton’s immigration proposal. The Trump campaign did not respond to our request for more information.

Clinton supports “comprehensive immigration reform” and has vowed that within her first 100 days in office, she will introduce a plan to overhaul the immigration system with a pathway to full citizenship. Clinton also supports President Obama’s executive actions on DACA and DAPA. DAPA is pending in court under litigation, and DACA went into effect in 2012.

DAPA and DACA grantees are considered lawfully present in the United States. They can apply for a Social Security number once they receive work permits. They earn Social Security and Medicare benefits through their payroll taxes — meaning they must be paying taxes. To collect the benefits, they must reach retirement age and must have worked for at least 10 years, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

DACA grantees will not yet reach retirement age if Clinton becomes president and serves two terms in office. DACA grantees must have been under 31 as of June 15, 2012, and meet several other criteria to be eligible. So if Clinton serves two terms and leaves office in 2025, the oldest DACA grantees would be 43.

Moreover, once people receive deferred-action status under DACA, they are considered lawfully present in the United States. So they would not be “illegal immigrants,” as the ad says. About 728,000 people have been granted DACA — 6 percent of the estimated undocumented immigrant population of 11 million.

Unauthorized immigrants, who are not granted any deferred-action status, are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits or any other federal means-tested benefits. But they pay taxes and pay into the Social Security system.

Even though the majority of unauthorized immigrants can’t collect the benefits, they paid about $12 billion into the cash flow of the Social Security program in 2010, according to the Social Security actuary. (Some undocumented immigrants could theoretically collect benefits — illegally — if they’ve overstayed their visas or falsely obtained a Social Security number.) That means the U.S. government gets far more than it pays out when it comes to unauthorized immigrants.

In the ad, Trump also talks about Clinton’s proposal for deporting undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes (“Illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay,” the ad claims). But Clinton’s proposal would enforce immigration laws by focusing resources on detaining and deporting people who “pose a violent threat to public safety.”

Washington Post opinions writer Greg Sargent pointed out that the language in this ad is inconsistent with Trump’s proposal of mass deportations. All undocumented immigrants are in the United States illegally, and in a sense have all broken the law. But Trump singles out those who are “committing crimes,” which indicates he is prioritizing undocumented immigrants who pose a threat to the public.

While the ad says Clinton’s America would have “open borders,” Clinton has supported efforts to increase border security. [Update: Hacked emails released on Oct. 7 showed Clinton apparently said in a paid closed-door speech to a Brazilian bank: “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders,” through green energy.

The Clinton campaign has refused to authenticate the hacked emails, but campaign manager Robby Mook said in an Oct. 9 CBS “Face the Nation” interview that Clinton was “talking about integrating green energy between North and South America. … If the question is, ‘Does Hillary Clinton support throwing open our borders?’ Absolutely not. And she is going to do everything she can to fight to protect the interests of workers in this country.”]

The Pinocchio Test

The Republican presidential nominee makes a bizarre claim that undocumented immigrants will collect Social Security under a Clinton presidency. In general, people in the United States illegally are not eligible to collect Social Security benefits. They must be granted some type of lawful status — either by obtaining legal status or being granted deferred action.

Even then, it’s not accurate to say they are “skipping the line.” People who obtain lawful status under DACA need to work for at least 10 years, pay taxes and reach retirement age before they are eligible to receive Social Security benefits.

Trump has already earned 41 Four-Pinocchio ratings. We would have liked to see the nominee finally stick closer to the facts in his first general-election ad. Unfortunately, this ad is — to borrow a line from its script — “more of the same.” The broad assertion in this ad is just not supported by facts, and thus earns Four Pinocchios.

[Update: The Trump campaign sent the following two statements in response, more than a day after the fact-check published. The information contained in these statements will not result in a change in the Four Pinocchio rating.

From Trump campaign policy director Stephen Miller: “This Washington Post ‘fact check’ may be the most stunningly false and ludicrous ‘fact check’ conceived in the history of the enterprise.

Hillary Clinton supports executive amnesty for illegal immigrants of all ages, which confers guaranteed access to Social Security benefits at U.S. taxpayer expense (net payments will be dwarfed by net withdrawals).  The Washington Post’s counterargument on Clinton’s behalf — that if she gives unconstitutional unilateral amnesty to illegal immigrants it doesn’t count because they’re not illegal anymore — is an offense to all human logic.  People here illegally today are not legally able to get Social Security and Clinton will unilaterally violate federal law to decree them eligible for Social Security.

Further, she pledges legislated amnesty as well in her first 100 days which will make all illegal immigrants eligible for Social Security is well.

We look forward to a full and complete retraction from the Washington Post.”

From Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.): “The Hillary Clinton plan would give illegal immigrants instant access to social security, and they will ultimately draw out hundeds of billions more than they will pay in over time.  She will do this through her plan to continue and expand President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty — which includes Social Security Disability Benefits — and through legislated amnesty.  This is beyond question or doubt, and something she must answer for as it will dangerously deplete the Social Security Trust Fund on which so many Americans rely. We need to put the financial safety of lawful Americans first, and not create even more long-term danger to their Social Security, and to the financial well-being of the Republic.”]

Four Pinocchios

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