ST. LOUIS — The are many issues and countless lives tangled up in our country's immigration debate.

But there's one question that seems to stand out. Do people here illegally get benefits from the government?

Patty L. wrote to the 5 On Your Side Verify team to ask if people in the country illegally "get food stamps, medical and education assistance and if so, how much?"

"I think people think that that's happening," said St. Louis immigration attorney David Cox. 

Cox said anyone in the country illegally is not eligible for federal benefits. 

"They may get some other benefits that are specific to their area that would not be connected to the federal government," Cox said. "But, they are not entitled to federal benefits."

For instance, Cox said, some states, cities or charities may have programs for people in the country illegally, but they are not eligible for food, housing or education assistance from the federal government. No medical care either.

But, Cox pointed out, if a child is born in the U.S. that child is a U.S. citizen and is eligible for services like Medicaid. And, he said, sometimes people may confuse the child's benefits for the parents'.

"If they see that...if it's a federal benefit it's being offered only to the U.S. citizen child," Cox said. "It's not available to the undocumented immigrant."

Cox said it usually works the other way around. People in the country illegally often have fake Social Security cards in order to work. Because of that, they pay Social Security taxes and federal income taxes, but even if they become citizens, they'll never be able to claim any of the benefits from those taxes they paid before they were citizens.

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