Fact Check: Will Millions of Illegal Immigrants Get Stimulus Checks, as Ted Cruz Says?

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) proposed an amendment to the American Rescue Plan that would bar illegal immigrants from access to the $1,400 stimulus checks.

His amendment was voted down after Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) criticized Cruz for trying to "rile people up over something that is not true."

The Claim

Cruz claimed on Twitter that illegal immigrants would be eligible for the $1,400 stimulus checks included in the American Rescue Plan.

On March 6, Cruz tweeted, "When the checks go out, millions of illegal immigrants WILL GET $1400 checks."

6/x FACT 9: When Durbin said “illegal immigrants don’t have social security numbers,” he was deliberately saying something false, knowing it would be repeated.

FACT 10: Under the bill’s language, MILLIONS OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS will get the $1400 checks.

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 7, 2021

He wrote that many people considered illegal immigrants are those who have overstayed their visas, and therefore have Social Security numbers.

Cruz argued that the possession of Social Security numbers will allow unlawfully present individuals to obtain the stimulus money.

The Facts

Anyone who pays taxes in the United States as a resident is eligible for a stimulus payment under the American Rescue Plan. That includes non-citizens.

For example, a citizen of Canada who is living and working full time in the U.S. would have a Social Security number and would be eligible for a stimulus payment.

The United States Department of Homeland Security website describes unauthorized immigrants as foreign-born non-citizens who live in the United States without legal residence.

Individuals who overstay their visas but pay tax in the United States using a Social Security number can be eligible for stimulus payments. The most recent available data for the number of visa overstays in the United States is from 2019, released by the Department of Homeland Security. It said that 1.21 percent of visas in that year were overstayed, or 676,422 overstays. In 2019, student visas (1.52 percent) had a higher overstay rate than those from Canada and Mexico (.75 percent, 1.27 percent, respectively).

Illegal immigrants would not be eligible to receive a check if they do not have a Social Security number.

Immigrants who overstay their visas no longer are lawfully in the country but retain their Social Security numbers and therefore are eligible to receive a check.

"Technically, if they have overstayed their visa, they are here illegally," a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection told Newsweek. "If a visitor has not been granted an extension of status by USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services], then they are considered to be overstays and subject to deportable status under 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act."

But Durbin is not convinced that the number of overstays with Social Security cards is as high as Cruz said.

A Durbin aide released a statement that said, in part:

"CBP's limited data sample of overstays and other estimates of visa overstay numbers do not contain the numbers of tax filers with SSNs who overstayed visas. It is simply false to assume that each visa overstayer has a social security number, for which the person must have been work-authorized to qualify for a SSN in the first place. By far the largest visa category of visas issued/visas overstayed each year (tourist/business B visas) according to DHS data do not qualify noncitizens to get a SSN.

"Generalized visa overstay estimates do not reveal how many individuals have overstayed visas who were a) authorized to work, b) provided the documentation necessary to get a Social Security Number, c) did not subsequently get a green card or otherwise obtain a lawful immigration status, d) overstayed their visa, but e) continued filing tax returns with the IRS such that they now qualify for stimulus checks.

"Additionally, a claim based on incomplete visa overstay data about the American Rescue Plan stimulus checks must also acknowledge that this hypothetical scenario (of stimulus checks going to visa overstayers with SSNs) would have applied just the same to the CARES Act and the December 2020 stimulus package, and is not a new or unique feature of the American Rescue Plan."

People who qualify as legal residents include those who have passed the green card test (permanent legal residents) or those who pass the substantial presence test. That test requires taxpayers to be physically present in the United States for 31 days of the current year and 183 days for the past three years."

Anyone who has a green card is considered a legal permanent resident, and would be eligible for the stimulus payment.

The Ruling

True.

Cruz's claim that millions of illegal immigrants would receive stimulus payments is true, given the amount of people who have overstayed their visas over the years. Once they overstay, they technically are considered "illegal."

Correction, March 9, 4:00 pm EST: The ruling on this story has been corrected to true. A statement from Customs and Border Protection has been added.

Update, March 11, 7:53 pm EST: Dick Durbin's office contacted us after publication and we have added a comment.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) addresses the Conservative
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in the Hyatt Regency on February 26, 2021, in Orlando, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Getty