It’s possible that half of undocumented US immigrants have paid more taxes than Donald Trump

Entitled by law.
Entitled by law.
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has admitted he used a $916 million loss to avoid paying personal federal taxes for years.

During the final presidential debate, his opponent Hillary Clinton asserted that half of undocumented immigrants, a group that he has repeatedly lashed out against, have paid more taxes than him.

“We have undocumented immigrants in America who are paying more federal income tax than a billionaire,” she said. “I find that just astonishing.”

She’s right on the proportion of unauthorized immigrants who pay taxes, according to research from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, or ITEP.

But the tax policy non-profit was referring to state and local taxes, not federal taxes. In a 2013 report (pdf) it estimated that people without a work authorization paid an estimated $10.6 billion in those kinds of state and local taxes in 2010. (Immigrants who use fake or borrowed social security numbers have taxes deducted from their pay stubs.)

The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration estimates unauthorized immigrant workers and their employers paid $13 billion in payroll taxes, which include federal taxes, in 2010. It’s likely some also have federal personal income tax payments withheld from their earnings, even if they never file returns.

The federal Internal Revenue Service has also made it possible for undocumented immigrants who are paid in cash to file a tax return using a special tax ID number known as ITIN. About 3 million people paid more than $870 million in income taxes in 2010 using ITINs, the Atlantic reported. There are about 11 million immigrants living in the US illegally.

Trump didn’t dispute Clinton’s statement on how his taxes compare to those of unauthorized immigrants.

“We’re entitled because of the laws that people like her passed to take massive amount of depreciation and other charges and we do it,” he responded.

Given that Trump has refused to release his income tax returns, it’s unclear how exactly any tax payments stack up against those of unauthorized immigrant workers. In the past, Trump has said that he pays “federal tax,” though that doesn’t necessarily mean he pays personal federal income tax—as opposed to the federal tax on gasoline or jet fuel he purchases, for example.