Illegal immigrants are offered an array of taxpayer funded benefits, enticing more to come: 'Pull factor'


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Illegal immigrants who have entered the U.S. as part of the record-breaking migrant crisis are eligible for a range of services, assistance and benefits amid a complex network of federal, state and local programs and taxpayer-funded providers.

There were 2.4 million migrant crossings in the U.S. in fiscal year 2023, a new record, and more than 7 million have entered since 2021. While some of those have been returned or deported, many others have instead been processed and released into the U.S. Overall, nearly 7.3 million migrants have crossed the southern border under President Biden’s watch, a Fox News analysis earlier this year found. 

When they arrive at the border, migrants who do not evade Border Patrol agents and who are taken into custody are processed and, if not removed, often released into the U.S. eventually with a notice to appear at an immigration court — typically years into the future due to the momentous backlog in the courts, which is now at nearly 3.6 million cases. 

Migrants who are released into the interior are currently unable to work legally until six months after they have filed a claim for asylum, which not all illegal immigrants do. Many have also spent thousands of dollars paying smugglers to guide them to the southern border and so will often have few resources.

Some will be able to receive assistance from family members already living in the U.S., but others will not. As they move deeper into the country, there are a number of resources from which they can draw. 

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Immigrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the border from Mexico in Yuma, Arizona, on Aug. 6, 2022. (Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images)

Conservatives warn that providing such benefits to illegal immigrants acts as a pull factor for migrants, and hurts American taxpayers.

“Illegal aliens coming to America want five things: to enter the U.S.; stay here; work; send money home; and bring or have family here. All these benefits help illegal aliens stay in the U.S., so, yes, the benefits are a pull factor,” Lora Ries, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Border Security and Immigration Center, told Fox News Digital.

“Another benefit to add is legal services for civil deportation hearings, a benefit that U.S. citizens do not receive. Given the millions coming to the U.S. under the Biden administration, American taxpayers will see significant tax increases to pay for all these services given to people who aren’t supposed to be here. That means Americans will have even less money to spend on gas, groceries, and rent,” she said. 

At the border

At the border itself, migrants who are taken into Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody will be cared for and given treatment as needed. In addition to shelter and meals, they will also be offered and provided essential medical care. When an illegal immigrant in ICE detention anywhere in the country requires health care, they are typically treated on-site by medical professionals. However, if specialist or emergency care is required, they may be transported to an independent private provider. ICE’s Health Service Corps will reimburse providers at Medicare rates.

If migrants are being released, they will often be turned over to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the border, who will care for migrants and help them make their way into the U.S.

While services and assistance are being provided by NGOs, in many cases this is being done with the assistance of federal dollars. In addition to caring for migrants at CBP stations, the federal government is providing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to NGOs and communities who are receiving migrants. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it is providing $640.9 million in FY 2024 via its Shelter and Services Program to allow “non-federal entities,” including city governments and NGOs, to off-set costs incurred by the migrant arrivals they are seeing. Recently, DHS expanded the cap for both hotels and airfare to 10 percent of the total funding requested, and allowed NGOs to apply for a waiver of that cap due to an operational need. 

“SSP grants have provided critical support to communities receiving migrants and the need for this support is ongoing,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement in September. 

NGOs will help migrants with hotel rooms and travel, which typically involves bus and train tickets, but can in some instances involve flights. Some migrants will book their own flights, while others will use bus travel coordinated by the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has set up buses to take migrants to “sanctuary” cities across the U.S. free of charge.

A 2023 Government Accountability Office report found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had provided more than $282 million in humanitarian relief grant funding to NGOs in fiscal years 2019, 2021 and 2022. 

According to that report, services provided to migrants included food, clothing, transport to airports or bus stations, medical care, legal aid, translation assistance and assistance with booking travel. Those nonprofits said that typically the migrants pay for their own travel. The majority of the more than $10 million the report looked at was spent on food and shelter (about 58%). The next two categories were per capita spending (on individual food, shelter, health care) and transportation. 

Meanwhile, another DHS pilot program — the Case Management Pilot Program — provides case management and other services to those in immigration removal proceedings. Services include mental health services, school enrollment, legal aid, “cultural orientation programs” and connections to social services — as well as human trafficking screening and departure planning for those being deported.

State, local level

When migrants arrive at destinations across the country, what they can receive varies. Many “sanctuary” cities will provide shelter to migrants as part of their broader safety nets, and some have migrant-specific programs to help them build a life in the U.S. Some of those cities have still tried to limit the length at which they can stay, with New York City and Chicago limiting stays to 60 days for families earlier this year due to ongoing capacity issues.

In Denver, migrants can be enrolled in a program that offers “housing assistance options” for up to six months, along with pre-work authorization readiness training, case management, language instruction, career pathway explorations and “work-based learning opportunities.”

Should a migrant go to New York City, they may be eligible for a pre-paid debit card. A pilot program there involves $53 million being spent to give families with two children $350 a week. The cards can only be used at grocery stores, bodegas and convenience stores and migrants must promise to only spend on food and baby supplies. Authorities there said they wanted to see the program expanded to all migrant families currently staying in hotels. A family of four might be provided nearly $1,000 each month, or $35 per day for food, the New York Post reported. The cards are replenished every 28 days. 

New York State has also extended state-funded Medicaid coverage to individuals ages 65 and older, regardless of their immigration status. 

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Asylum seekers line up in front of the historic Roosevelt Hotel, which was converted into a city-run shelter for newly arrived migrant families in New York City. (Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

New York City has also offered one-way plane tickets to migrants, with a “reticketing center” for migrants opened last year, where a spokesperson said the city will “redouble efforts to purchase tickets for migrants” who are seeking to travel elsewhere.

In California, this year is the first year that illegal immigrants are eligible for Cal-Health. Illegal immigrants have been allowed to get free health insurance if they are under 26 since 2019, but in 2024 the eligibility was raised to include residents between 26 and 49.

“In California, we believe everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care coverage — regardless of income or immigration status,” Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said in a statement.

In Washington, D.C., illegal immigrants can receive health coverage via the longstanding Healthcare Alliance program. In Oregon, the Cover All People Act extended state-funded healthcare coverage to all low-income adults not eligible due to their immigration status. There has been a similar push to expand state-funded health insurance to illegal immigrant children in Virginia. 

Some cities and states will also provide assistance for illegal immigrants’ legal costs. In Chicago, the Legal Protection Fund was established in 2017 and is funded by taxpayers through the city government and partners with NGOs to provide “community-based outreach, education, legal consultations and courtroom representation for thousands of immigrants each year.”

Federal level

Typically, illegal immigrants cannot receive federal benefits, including new migrants. However, they can receive some benefits on behalf of their children if they are U.S. citizens. They are also eligible for emergency medical treatment under Medicaid if they otherwise meet eligibility requirements. There are also a host of emergency nutrition assistance programs they can be eligible for, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Additionally, the Biden administration has moved to allow illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and eligible for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to apply for Obamacare. 

Separately, millions of illegal immigrants would be open to a whole slew of additional benefits if they were granted a pathway to citizenship. The Biden administration in early 2021 proposed a sweeping immigration reform bill that would grant amnesty and a path first to a green card, then to eventual citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already living in the country — although in its current form it would not apply to anyone who entered the U.S. after 2021. That legislation was shot down due to significant Republican opposition, but the Biden administration has repeatedly touted that bill as an example of the comprehensive immigration reform they believe will fix what they say is a “broken” immigration system. 



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