Among a flurry of retweets from his personal account Wednesday morning, President Trump pushed this tweet from a fan account out to his 56 million followers.
No commentary, no context, just a retweet implying that immigrants in the country illegally get more in government benefits than U.S. citizens and that no one not born in the United States should get any government assistance.
That $3,874 figure has been floating around. It appears to stem from a Facebook post in 2017, showing documentation of an initial payment to new residents in a country. But the payment wasn’t to an undocumented immigrant, it was to a refugee who was participating in a resettlement program. Actually, to a family of five refugees.
And the payment wasn’t in the United States. It was in Canada.
Immigrants in the country illegally are not eligible for most government benefits programs by law. Undocumented immigrants can’t legally receive food stamps, live in public housing, enroll in non-emergency Medicaid coverage or receive supplemental security insurance or cash assistance. They are eligible to receive emergency medical services, enroll in public schools and participate in meals programs there, and participate in Head Start or WIC. There is no federal program that directly gives cash to immigrants in the country illegally.
Note that many of these services apply specifically to children. Many of the children of immigrants in the country illegally are citizens, entitling them to a broader range of assistance, if needed.
What’s more, many immigrants in the country illegally pay taxes on their wages. The IRS estimates that, in 2015, workers ineligible for a Social Security number (including undocumented immigrants) paid more than $23 billion in taxes.
As for Social Security checks, the average payment is $1,413 a month, with a maximum payment of $2,788.
These are simple points of data to verify, even for me, a person whose job doesn’t entail running every government program in the country. Trump could readily have determined the actual amount of Social Security payments — and should already have known that undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for benefits, given how his assertions that such prohibitions needed to exist were thoroughly fact-checked last year.
But this gets away from the central point raised by Trump’s tweet. He didn’t retweet it because he wants to inform the American public about the economics of immigrants. Had Trump wanted to do so, he could have released documentation from the government agencies he oversees noting the discrepancy. He didn’t.
The tweet suggests that people retweet if they agree that those not born in the United States should receive no assistance from the government. Trump’s rhetoric has never been that explicit, but he has called for a cessation of benefits programs for immigrants at least for a period of time. (When he made that suggestion, he appears not to have been aware that such a prohibition already exists.)
About 1 in 8 U.S. residents was born outside the country. Many are now citizens or green-card holders. The tweet argues that none should be eligible for any government program, including, presumably, programs such as Social Security into which they may have paid for years.
There’s some irony to Trump’s retweet. If he’s so firmly opposed to those born outside the United States enjoying public benefits, he might be alarmed to learn that there’s an immigrant living in public housing in Washington, enjoying transportation and meals paid for by the taxpayer.
That person’s name is Melania Trump.