Congressional Corner - Totalization, Amnesty, & Illegal Immigration's Drain On The Social Security

Congressional Corner – Totalization, Amnesty, & Illegal Immigration’s Drain On The Social Security

By Representative Pete Sessions (TX)

America's immigration policy may make a dramatic shift in the coming months. According to press reports, the new Congressional leadership may push for an immigration plan that grants amnesty to illegal immigrants residing in the U.S., and America's senior citizens are paying close attention.

Today's seniors have spent a lifetime paying into benefit programs like Social Security. They did so under the assumption that those programs' benefits will be there for them when they need them. All too frequently, though, illegal immigrants are reaping benefits without first paying their fair share into the program, and those who paid into Social Security fear that expected benefits will not be available when the time comes.

Compounding the problem, in 2004 the U.S. and Mexico signed a totalization agreement allowing people who split their careers between two countries to receive a harmonized retirement benefit from the two governments. Since 1978, the U.S. has entered into similar agreements with 21 countries, and, as with previous agreements, the U.S.- Mexico totalization agreement applies only to legal U.S. residents.

However, statistics indicate that unauthorized immigrants from Mexico make up a majority of all unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., and in a 2003 report, the General Accounting Office (GAO, now known as the Government Accountability Office) recognized the potential for unauthorized immigrant workers to abuse the Social Security system and fraudulently obtain benefits.

The GAO has noted that a totalization agreement may motivate additional unauthorized workers to come to the United States. Similarly, the prospect of an amnesty program passing the Congress in the coming months will likely encourage increased illegal immigration in anticipation of an easy road to U.S. citizenship.

We cannot afford to overlook the financial risks associated both with the U.S.-Mexico totalization agreement and with any immigration plan that includes an amnesty provision at the expense of first securing our borders against additional illegal immigration.

In the 109th Congress, I co-sponsored legislation expressing CongressТ disapproval of the Totalization Agreement between the U.S. and Mexico because I believe it is imperative that we protect Social Security by preventing others from "gaming" the system. For this reason, I also co-sponsored the Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act of 2005, legislation aimed at cracking down on Social Security fraud.

It remains my goal in the 110th Congress to ensure that our Social Security system remains solvent and available to those who have spent a lifetime legally accruing benefits. I will continue to oppose international agreements that risk costing America's seniors their retirement security. In addition, I will continue to advocate an enforcement-first approach to immigration policy. Only when we have the mechanisms in place to effectively stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. can we begin to address the strain they place on our financial resources, including the Social Security system.

January 2007