Joe Legal vs. Jose Illegal: Claims about Illegal Immigrants in California-Mostly Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
A commentary known as “Joe Legal vs. Jose Illegal” has been circulating since 2010 and makes claims about the economic impact of undocumented or illegal immigrants compared to legal American workers.
The Joe Legal vs. Jose Legal makes a number of false claims about undocumented immigrant’s ability to collect government benefits, and the commentary overlooks the fact that undocumented workers in the U.S. pay billions each year in taxes.
The original source of the Joe Legal vs. Jose Illegal commentary isn’t clear, but it’s been making the rounds in discussion forums and forwarded emails since at least 2010. The commentary compares the economic circumstance of a construction worker named “Joe Legal” who earns $25 per hour, pays taxes and is not eligible for government benefits to the economic circumstances of “Jose Illegal,” a construction worker who earns $15 per hour, doesn’t pay taxes and collects government benefits in California.
The commentary details how Joe Legal’s $52,000 annual salary is chipped away by taxes and other expenses while Jose Illegal’s $32,000 annual salary remains largely intact. It can be difficult to evaluate these types of hypothetical commentaries because government programs vary from state-to-state and are generally complicated to navigate.
However, the Joe Legal vs. Jose Illegal commentary makes a number of claims that are fairly easy to debunk. First, the central claim that zero undocumented workers pay taxes is false. The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy reports that about 11.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States were “already pay a significant share of their income in state and local taxes” back in 2010, when the commentary began circulating:
Like other people living and working in the United States, undocumented immigrants currently contribute a significant share of their income to state and local taxes. In addition to paying sales and excise taxes when they purchase goods and services like utilities, clothing and gasoline, undocumented immigrants also pay property taxes directly on their homes or indirectly as renters, and at least half are paying income taxes despite lacking legal status.
Collectively, undocumented immigrants paid an estimated total of $10.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010. This includes $1.2 billion in personal income taxes and $1.2 billion in property taxes. Sales and excise taxes account for 77 percent of their state and local tax contributions, amounting to more than $8 billion.
Undocumented workers also pay billions of dollars in federal payroll taxes to the IRS each year. The IRS has made it easier for them to do so by issuing Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs), which would enable Jose Illegal to file taxes the same as Joe Legal, the Atlantic reports:
In 2010, about 3 million people paid over $870 million in income taxes using an ITIN, and according to the IRS, ITIN filers pay $9 billion in payroll taxes annually. (The IRS says it does not share ITIN information with immigration authorities.)
There are many undocumented immigrants who do not pay state or federal taxes, and Jose Illegal could be among them. However, the commentary paints an inaccurate picture of undocumented workers never paying state and federal taxes, which simply isn’t true based on available data.
Claims made in Joe Legal vs. Jose Illegal about the government assistance available to Jose are also suspect. The commentary, for example, claims that Jose has no documented income and is available for food stamps and welfare. However, the California Department of Social Services clearly states that, “Non-citizens that are in the U.S. temporarily, such as students or tourists are not eligible just as undocumented individuals are not eligible” for food assistance. Assistance could, however, be available to Jose’s two children if they had legal status. It’s not clear how much assistance the children would be eligible for, but it probably wouldn’t be enough to support a family of four, making the claim that Jose doesn’t have to pay for food “false.”
And the Joe Legal vs. Jose Illegal commentary’s claims that Jose qualifies for welfare also doesn’t jive with California’s eligibility requirements for welfare benefits, which state: “you must be a resident of the state of California, either pregnant or responsible for a child under 19 years of age, a U.S. national, citizen, legal alien, or permanent resident, have low or very low income, and be either under-employed (working for very low wages), unemployed or about to become unemployed.
In the end, the Joe Legal vs. Jose Illegal commentary makes inaccurate comparisons between the financial outlooks of workers in California with legal status and those with illegal immigration status. That’s why we’re calling this one “mostly fiction.”