Fact Check

Did 18 Million 'Illegal Immigrants' Receive Government Checks During the Shutdown?

The 2018-19 government shutdown has resulted in fewer people being paid, not more.

Published Jan. 24, 2019

 (Karin Hildebrand Lau/Shutterstock)
Image courtesy of Karin Hildebrand Lau/Shutterstock
Some 18 million 'illegal immigrants' received benefit checks during a government shutdown in January 2019.

As an estimated 800,000 federal employees were set to miss yet another paycheck in January 2019 due to the longest federal government shutdown in United States history, a message spread on social media which claimed that some 18 million illegal immigrants had received their benefit checks despite the lapse in government funding:

This factually inaccurate message appears to have been first posted to Facebook by "Miles Dalton" on 20 January 2019. While that post only had a few hundred shares, verbatim copies of the message were posted to dozens of additional social media accounts:

This claim was inaccurate on its face for two reasons. The number of undocumented persons residing in the United States is less than 18 million, and undocumented immigrants are ineligible for most government benefits.

The number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States peaked at around 12.2 million in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center, and that number dropped to about 10.7 million by 2016, with the most recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security citing a similar figure. In a December 2018 report report, DHS estimated that 12 million illegal aliens were living in the United States in January 2015.

In other words, 18 million illegal immigrants couldn't have received government checks because fewer than 18 million illegal immigrants were in the United States in the first place.

This Facebook post didn't specify the purpose of the "government checks" supposedly handed out to these 18 million illegal immigrants during the government shutdown, but since undocumented persons are ineligible for most government benefits, it's safe to say that this claim was made up out of whole cloth:

Undocumented immigrants, including DACA holders, are ineligible to receive most federal public benefits, including means-tested benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, sometimes referred to as food stamps), regular Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and are prohibited from purchasing unsubsidized health coverage on ACA exchanges.

Undocumented immigrants may be eligible for a handful of benefits that are deemed necessary to protect life or guarantee safety in dire situations, such as emergency Medicaid, access to treatment in hospital emergency rooms, or access to healthcare and nutrition programs under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

The National Council of State Legislature explains that illegal immigrants may receive some benefits under certain circumstances, such as emergency medical care or disaster relief, and undocumented children also have access to public schools. None of the potential benefits available to illegal immigrants listed by the NCSL, however, would result in the government's issuing checks to undocumented immigrants:


Pramuk, Jacob.   "Trump’s Border Wall Offer Looks Doomed in the Senate as 800,000 Government Workers Face Another Lost Paycheck During Shutdown."     CNBC.   22 January 2019.

Department of Homeland Security.   "Illegal Alien Population Residing in the United States: January 2015."     December 2018.

National Conference of State Legislatures.   "Federal Benefits Available to Unauthorized Immigrants."     Retrieved 24 January 2019.

National Immigration Forum.   “Fact Sheet: Immigrants and Public Benefits.”     21 August 2018.

Krogstad, Jens.   "5 Facts About Illegal Immigration in the U.S."     Pew Research Center.   28 November 2018.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

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