On July 16 2019, the following text-based status update (archived here) appeared on Facebook with the uncited claim that asylum seekers admitted to the United States receive a $2,100 monthly payment — whereas by comparison, Americans who had paid into Social Security receive a paltry $1,400:
As noted in a number of previous fact checks, text-based status updates have now created a groundswell of disinformation on Facebook. In their text-only format, citations and supporting news stories could not effectively circulate alongside them — making them an ideal tool for spreading inaccurate or misleading claims.
This is one such claim. The original poster did not include any citations alongside his post, but in the comments linked to a page [PDF] from which he presumably drew his conclusions. Although the URL of the linked page did not clarify the source of the information in the PDF, the website on which it was hosted was for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — a religious organization, not a government entity.
A page on the USCCB site titled “Resettlement Services” explained that the organization assisted in resettling roughly 30 percent of refugees in the United States each year:
Refugees, having suffered great loss, including loss of their homes, livelihoods, possessions and oftentimes families, need assistance starting over in a new country. Their initial needs are many: food, clothing, shelter, employment, ESL, and orientation to a new community and culture. In partnership with its affiliates, USCCB/MRS resettles approximately 30% of the refugees that arrive in the U.S. each year. The Catholic refugee resettlement network includes over 100 diocesan offices across the country and in Guam and Puerto Rico. Resettling refugees provides an extraordinary opportunity for countless Americans to take an active part in offering a caring and supportive environment for refugees as they begin new lives. Without volunteers and resources from the community and parishes, USCCB/MRS and the diocesan resettlement offices would be unable to accomplish the tremendous task of giving refugees new hope and the opportunity to begin again.
That document linked to a source document [PDF], a March 2010 United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Committees titled “Iraqi Refugees and Special Immigrant Visa Holders Face Challenges Resettling in the United States and Obtaining U.S. Government Employment.” In the report, the GAO indicated that Iraqi refugees are each eligible for 30 to 90 days of resettlement benefits of $1,800 for housing, food, and other necessities:
Iraqi refugees and SIV holders are eligible for resettlement assistance and public benefits upon arrival in the United States. State provides resettlement agencies $1,800 per person to cover basic housing, food, and assistance for accessing services during their first 30 days in the United States; however, support may continue for up to 90 days if basic needs have not been met. Refugees automatically receive these benefits; Iraqi SIV holders must elect to receive them within 10 days of receiving their visas. In addition, qualified Iraqi refugees and, as a result of December 2009 legislation, qualified SIV holders can receive certain assistance for up to 7 years through public benefits programs. Prior to December 19, 2009, Iraqi SIV holders’ eligibility for public benefits generally ceased after 8 months. Both groups can also receive up to 8 months of cash and medical assistance from HHS if they do not qualify for public benefits. In addition, HHS funds social services, including job preparation, English language classes, and assistance with job interviews, for which Iraqi refugees and SIV holders may be eligible for up to 5 years.
The same document noted that Iraqi refugees were granted such benefits because of United States military activity in their home country:
The February 2006 bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque in Samara triggered sectarian violence in Iraq and increased the number of displaced Iraqis. The United States has taken a lead role in resettling displaced Iraqis under the Department of State’s (State) Refugee Admissions Program. In addition, Congress established two special immigrant visa (SIV) programs to help qualified Iraqis who previously worked for the U.S. government in Iraq to immigrate to the United States.
As noted in a years-old fact check, the broader claim that refugees receive benefits more generous than those of Social Security recipients is an ancient bit of disinformation that started in Canada. As is often the case with claims like these, the locales quickly shifted while the inaccurate purported details remained the same.
The Canadian Council for Refugees has long attempted to retire the pervasive rumor, clearly to no avail:
When we debunked yet another iteration of claims that refugees “make more” than retirees in April 2019, we broke down the benefits available to asylum seekers and the duration of those benefits:
Refugee status in the United States comes with a period of eight months in which certain assistance is provided as a matter of course, so individuals eligible for resettlement can successfully navigate the process, and at least some of that assistance is a loan, not a gift. The numbers cited in the meme make little sense contrasted with facts about the refugee program, in which presumably all who receive refugee status are entitled to extremely time-limited assistance.
A specified period of eight months was not solely for federal aid, as states also adopted the time limitation in their own programs for refugee assistance. All three of the meme’s metrics (“food stamps” of SNAP, Medicaid, and cash assistance) are addressed under one aspect of the program:
The Cash and Medical Assistance (CMA) Program is part of the Division of Refugee Assistance. CMA reimburses states for 100 percent of services provided to refugees and other eligible persons, as well as associated administrative costs. Programs eligible for reimbursement include:
- Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA)
- Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA)
- Unaccompanied Refugee Minors
ORR clients determined ineligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid may be eligible for RCA and RMA for up to eight months from the date of arrival in the U.S., date of final grant of asylum for asylees and date of certification for trafficking victims.
We found in the course of that fact check that research conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) determined that refugees and asylum-seekers generally end up paying in excess of $21,000 in taxes more than they receive in benefits over time — essentially creating a net gain in taxes paid in over benefits paid out. The average Social Security benefit payout is about $1,400 a month as of January 2019, but that is not the upper limit of monthly benefits:
The average Social Security benefit was $1,461 per month in January 2019. The maximum possible Social Security benefit for someone who retires at full retirement age is $2,861 in 2019. However, a worker would need to earn the maximum taxable amount, currently $132,900 for 2019, over a 35-year career to get this Social Security payment.
The claim that refugees or asylees receive $2,100 per month indefinitely, whereas Social Security recipients receive a measly $1,400 a month, is an old piece of anti-immigrant folklore that is clearly intended to rive a wedge between groups and create anti-immigrant sentiment; however, it did not even originate in the United States.
Over the years, we have examined innumerable iterations of the claim, never finding a substantive basis for any of them. Refugees and asylum-seekers receive limited funds to begin a new life in the United States, typically over a period of 30 days to eight months, funds that have been allocated for their food and housing so that they may start a new life. The exact amount of money to which they are entitled varies, but it is largely a short-term benefit to ensure they find a home and stay fed until they can obtain employment — and in many cases, they have to pay it back with interest.