With a little persistence, illegal immigrants can get just about every benefit U.S. citizens have

May 15, 2009

Being illegal doesn’t hinder privileges
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Critics say extending benefits to illegal immigrants makes their status seem acceptable.

Juan Carlos Delira has a mortgage, car, bank account, credit card, cellphone and 401(k) retirement account. It does not matter that he’s an illegal immigrant.

While Congress debates whether the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants should be deported, granted amnesty or allowed “earned citizenship,” many U.S. institutions — and some federal agencies — already afford illegal immigrants privileges available to U.S. citizens.

Illegal immigrants turn to many nonprofits for help and can expect protection from law enforcement agencies and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which enforces workplace safety in many places where illegal immigrants work, such as construction sites.

They can find work at publicly financed day-labor centers, such as the one in Fort Worth. In Texas and several other states, they can qualify for in-state tuition at public universities and for state financial aid. They can also can get some scholarships.

Critics call such practices de facto legalization and worry that extending benefits to illegal immigrants removes the stigma of violating immigration law.

“They want to make illegal immigration a fait accompli,” said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based group that opposes illegal immigration. “The more benefits we extend to illegals, the more we make it seem normal.”

Seeking benefits

Delira’s benefits make him seem like any other American. The father of five belongs to a union, works as a welder and talks of getting additional training. He showed a visitor to his Arlington home how he laid the tile floor in his living room himself.

“If I was in Mexico, I would have only this whole room for my family if I’m lucky,” he said.

Delira crossed the border when he was 14. He spent his first year in the United States working as a dishwasher and living under a bridge with other illegal immigrants. They cooked over an open fire and showered by blasting one another with hoses at a carwash.

Other illegal immigrants said their networks buzz with advice about how to overcome obstacles and where to go for help. Sometimes rejection means moving on to the next program or company that openly, discreetly or unknowingly serves people without legal-residency status.

Sometimes all that’s required is a little extra paperwork. Illegal immigrants who want to qualify for in-state tuition at public universities must sign an affidavit saying they intend to become a citizen. Registering a car with the county requires filling out one extra form if the owner does not have a Social Security number.

George Allen, executive vice president of the Texas Apartment Association, said he knows of no law requiring identification for a lease. Some illegal immigrants said they end up paying a small bribe if they do not have the papers apartment managers ask for.

“I don’t have documents, but I have money,” said Jose Luis Flores, 38, who lives in an Arlington apartment with his wife and three children. Despite his status, Flores has been able to buy a car and cellphone and set up a bank account. He said he is now applying for a mortgage.

Flores said many companies are more interested in his money than his immigration status, and national research backs him up. The Pew Hispanic Center in Washington estimates that illegal immigrants have $180 billion worth of purchasing power.

Some experts say institutions and businesses recognize illegal immigrants because they can’t wait for Congress to act.

“It’s not done to be soft or to be nice but because it’s practical housekeeping,” said Tamar Jacoby, an immigration expert at the Manhattan Institute in New York.

She pointed out that there has been some backlash, such as voter referendums in California and Arizona on whether illegal immigrants should be denied benefits. In Georgia, a law enacted last month denies some state benefits to adult illegal immigrants.

In some cases, court orders have mandated that illegal immigrants be treated like everyone else.

A 1982 Supreme Court ruling guarantees illegal immigrants access to public education from kindergarten to high school. Supreme Court rulings in 1984 and 2002 say that illegal immigrants cannot be fired for union-organizing activities.

Building a paper trail

Since 1996, illegal immigrants have been able to obtain individual taxpayer identification numbers from the Internal Revenue Service to file federal income taxes. Many said they pay their taxes to build a paper trail that portrays them as a someone worthy of residency or citizenship. Some use their taxpayer ID number as a form of identification, much like a Social Security number.

An Arlington accountant who asked not to be identified showed the tax returns of two illegal immigrants who qualified for refunds on their federal taxes because of dependent credit for their children.

One University of Texas at Arlington student said he benefited from financial aid that Texas offers to illegal immigrants. He covered the rest of his tuition and fees with an honors scholarship, which he applied for with the dependent number his father used on his tax return.

“I’m building credit on that,” said the 21-year-old student, who asked to be identified as Jose. “It’s just as good as a Social Security number; it’s just not good for working.”

Asked how he will put his degree to work without a Social Security number, Jose said, “There’s always a way.”


In Texas, illegal immigrants can get:

Finance Bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, tax deductions and tax refunds

Education State financial aid for colleges, reduced in-state tuition, college scholarships, public education

Health and safety Medical care, health insurance, restraining orders, protection by fire and police departments, court-appointed attorneys