Fact Check

Elon Musk Is an Immigrant?

Public disagreements about how to handle immigration resulted in U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminding Elon Musk he is an immigrant himself.

Published March 29, 2024

 (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Image Via Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images
Claim:
Elon Musk is an immigrant to the United States.

On March 28, 2024, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez published a post on X (formerly Twitter) directed at billionaire Elon Musk, reminding him of the fact that he was an immigrant to the United States (archived):

Her post, which gained 122,000 likes and was reshared 13,000 times, as of this writing, came in response to a claim by Musk that the Democratic Party's goal was to acquire more voters by allowing them to stay in the United States. He shared this thought in reaction to a Daily Caller report that U.S. President Joe Biden was considering "handing out green cards to illegal immigrants" (archived):

A third post, this one in response to Ocasio-Cortez's, asked her to explain what she means by "immigrant" (archived):

Defining 'Immigrant'

The Oxford Languages dictionary defines an "immigrant" as "a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country."


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By that definition, Elon Musk is indeed an immigrant. He was born in South Africa and obtained Canadian citizenship through his mother in 1988. He transferred as a student to the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 and moved to California in 1995. He became a U.S. citizen in 2002.

In 2016, a claim began to circulate that he had been, for a time, an undocumented immigrant. Snopes fact-checked that claim and found that it was unproven, although his brother, Kimbal Musk, had joked during an interview that the two brothers spent some time in the country as "illegal immigrants."

Addressing the argument that Musk's case was different from that of people who "jump the border," Ocasio-Cortez replied that asking for asylum does not break U.S. law (archived):

Ocasio-Cortez was correct in noting that asking for asylum is legal in the U.S.

Voters for the Democratic Party?

As for the Daily Caller's claim that Biden was considering "amnesty" for "illegal immigrants," it stems from a Politico report that White House and other administration officials discussed the possibility of expanding an existing program called "cancellation of removal." This is a judicial program by which a person with a clean record who has been in the U.S. for more than 10 years can apply in immigration court to be allowed to stay if their removal might cause "extremely unusual hardship" to immediate family members. If the judge determines that all the conditions are met, the person is allowed to stay and receive a "green card" — permanent resident status. 

A green card allows a person to live and work in the U.S. It does not, however, allow them to vote. Green cards are a step towards citizenship, but they can be revoked. By law, a permanent resident must wait at least five years to apply for citizenship, except if they are married to a U.S. citizen, in which case the delay is three years.

In early March 2024, Musk wrote a more detailed post about his position on immigration (archived):

Sources

Biden Considering Granting Amnesty, Handing Out Green Cards To Illegal Immigrants: REPORT. https://dailycaller.com/2024/03/26/biden-considering-granting-amnesty-handing-green-cards-illegal-immigrants/. Accessed 29 Mar. 2024.

Cancellation of Removal. U.S. Justice Department, https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1596141/dl?inline.

Elon Musk | Biography, SpaceX, Tesla, Twitter, X, & Facts | Britannica. 26 Mar. 2024, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Elon-Musk.

Evon, Dan. 'Elon Musk Was an Undocumented Immigrant?' Snopes, 11 Feb. 2016, https://www.snopes.com//fact-check/elon-musk-illegal-immigrant/.

Myah, Ward. 'Biden Was Planning Executive Action on the Border. Now He's Gone Silent.' Politico, 25 Mar. 2024, https://www.politico.com/news/2024/03/25/what-happened-to-bidens-executive-actions-on-the-border-00148717.

Who Is Elon Musk and What Is His Net Worth? 26 Apr. 2022. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-61234231.

'8 U.S. Code § 1158 - Asylum'. LII / Legal Information Institute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/8/1158. Accessed 29 Mar. 2024.

Anna Rascouët-Paz is based in Brooklyn, fluent in numerous languages and specializes in science and economic topics.