Elon Musk undocumented migrants

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Elon Musk is lying about undocumented migrants

“Undocumented migrants in the U.S. pay BILLIONS in taxes to fund services they will, in most cases, never be able to take advantage of. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department has found that the top 1% of American earners evade $163-billion in taxes annually.”

It’s not the first time Elon Musk has put his foot in his mouth. Since purchasing Twitter (now X), he’s repeatedly proven that he’s often not to be trusted with what he says on that platform. Recently, the world’s richest man, with a net worth of $210-billion, felt the need to attack — with half-truths and lies — those with the least: undocumented migrants. His actions immediately reminded me of that editorial cartoon where billionaire Rupert Murdoch tells the blue-collar worker that the people he should be concerned about are migrants and not bloated capitalists who’ve hoarded most of the world’s wealth. Musk decided to inform his followers about a few things that he said they “probably don’t know.” Things like, “illegals in America can get bank loans, mortgages, insurance, driver’s licences, free healthcare (California & New York) and in-state college tuition.”

“What’s the point of being a citizen,” Musk concludes, “if an illegal gets all the benefits, but doesn’t pay taxes or do jury duty?” 

First off, am I the only one who finds it so off-putting that a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, an immigrant from South Africa himself, feels the need to target those with so little? 

He’s not alone.

The way certain pundits, politicians and public figures talk about migrants is deliberately dehumanizing. It’s on purpose. They provide easy ammunition for those either uninformed about the topic or, more importantly, with the desire to believe what is being told because it plays into their specific vision of the world. In my upcoming book, Seeking Asylum: Building a Shareable World, I reference Donald Trump Jr. who, in 2019, compared the border wall his father coveted to a zoo fence protecting Americans from the animals. 

“You know why you can enjoy a day at the zoo?” he posted on Instagram at the time. “Because walls work.” He was essentially calling migrants animals. And if someone who calls migrants animals can also convince others to see them as animals then Americans don’t have to care about them and how they’re treated by their government. 

‘Freeloaders’ gaming the system

In the same vein, Musk is inciting hate and suspicion of migrant workers by spreading false or incomplete information about them. If he can convince people that these “illegals” are underhanded and ruthless opportunists out to “game” the system and take advantage of good, hard-working legal American citizens and their hard-earned social benefits (and judging by the millions of “likes” under his false information, there are many who don’t question the validity of his statement and will happily share it), then those people won’t care about these migrants’ fate. 

It then becomes much easier for the public to support politicians who vote for and implement illegal pushbacks and the criminalization of migrants. Fear begets fear. If you lead with fear, if you incite fear, if you treat people as being worthy of your fear and your contempt, then you will get concern, hate, suspicion and fear in return. False information or facts presented without context help muddy already highly confusing debates.

It’s true that undocumented migrants in the U.S. can often get bank loans, mortgages, insurance, driver’s licences, free healthcare (California and New York) and 24 states do provide in-state college tuition. What about it? These people are working and therefore fill the requirements allowing them to get access to such things. They, too, pay their rent or mortgage like everyone else, but do not have access to public housing. It’s true that New York and California offer free or affordable healthcare to undocumented migrants, mainly because undocumented immigrants are not allowed to purchase health insurance like everyone else. Many states have also recognized that it benefits everyone if all residents have access to healthcare and higher education.

Regarding the second part of his statement, that undocumented migrants “don’t pay taxes or do jury duty,” Musk is correct about the latter part (only U.S. citizens are eligible to sit on a jury or vote in an election), but the former statement is a lie.

Undocumented migrants pay taxes

Undocumented migrants in the United States pay BILLIONS in taxes to fund services they will, in most cases, never be able to take advantage of. Between the tax returns that they file, and the taxes deducted from their paycheques, not to mention the sales taxes they pay every single time they purchase something, they are contributing billions in local, state and federal taxes

Are some undocumented migrants not paying taxes? Of course. Do those losses amount to the billions and billions some of these rich folks manage to avoid paying while engaging in tax evasion year after year? Doubtful. “The IRS and economists found in 2021,” according to Business Insider, “that the top 1% of earners don’t report nearly a quarter of their income and that the top 0.1% of earners underreport at nearly twice that rate. The Treasury Department has found that the top 1% of American earners evade $163-billion in taxes annually with the top .05% dodging $120-billion every year.”

But please tell me more about desperate people trying to eke out a living, while ignoring the 1% robbing us blind… Why am I supposed to be far more outraged about the former? 

The constant malicious focus on migrants persists because it feeds into an image of who they are supposed to be and how they supposedly take advantage of the system. But most do pay their taxes. And even the White House has concluded that legalizing them would reap more economic benefits, as they would be paid better and contribute even more money in taxes. 

And here’s how they pay their taxes for those wondering. Even though undocumented migrants don’t have a social security number, the IRS provides an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to people who are ineligible for an SSN so that they can comply with tax laws. In many cases, they can also use their ITIN to open an interest-bearing bank account or for obtaining a mortgage. Most migrants willingly pay federal taxes because it helps demonstrate that they comply with federal laws and builds a case for them if they choose to apply for U.S. citizenship. Many of these migrants are people who entered the country requesting asylum and are now working legally while their claim is being assessed. 

The reality is, there’s a whole lot of hypocrisy involved in how migrants are treated and used in filling desperately needed labour shortages and then often spit out or perceived as a threat to the very system they are helping uphold. Even though they pay back billions in federal taxes, they do not qualify for any social security benefits. Some do indeed qualify for the Child Tax Credit, but people arguing children should willingly suffer for any decisions adults make should reconsider their arguments — and their morals.  

Undocumented migrants are consistently paying into a system they cannot, in turn, benefit from if they ever needed to. And yet they are the ones routinely treated as freeloaders. Back in 2019, undocumented Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, filmmaker and writer Jose Antonio Vargas, who was born in the Philippines and raised in the U.S., tweeted about how tax-paying migrants like him were helping “fund the very system that detains and deports” them.  

Canada, too

What many readers may not know is that the same often happens right here at home in Canada. Migrant workers contribute more in terms of taxes and social contributions than they generally receive in benefits. While migrants and all temporary foreign workers are required to pay taxes on any income they earn in Canada, they also pay into social benefit programs that they will mostly never be able to claim. 

The Walrus recently published a moving article on the 20,000 to 500,000 undocumented youth in Canada. We don’t have the exact number because, fearing deportation, people are reluctant to declare their status. Even though these young people have often been raised here and lived their entire lives here, they don’t have access to the same things the rest of us do, like free healthcare or local university tuition fees, often depriving these kids of a university education and a better future.

In some welcome news, Canada’s Trudeau government recently announced that it plans a “broad and comprehensive program” that will soon allow many undocumented people to apply for permanent residency. Most of these people entered the country legally as students or workers but remained here after their visas expired. They are here now, working, contributing and already housed. They simply need to be regularized. This regularization program, expected to soon be announced, has been long-awaited by many immigration lawyers and those who hope for permanent residency and all the benefits and peace of mind that would come with it. 

Contributing members of our society who remain undocumented continue to live in a precarious state of limbo and a constant state of fear, increasing their vulnerability and potential for exploitation. Most of them work hard, contribute to Canada’s economy, and deserve a chance at permanency and a better life. ■

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis.