The Obama Administration recently opened the "illegals may apply" window at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Even before the government started accepting applications, estimates of those expected to qualify, more than doubled from the original government projections released just two months earlier. Nearly 1.8 million illegal immigrants under the age of 31 could become eligible. As details emerge, TSCL is concerned that the program is far broader than early announcements suggested.
But the new policy could backfire with senior voters. According to a recent TSCL poll seventy-seven percent said they do not agree with the new "deferred action" immigration policy.
Under the policy, illegal immigrants younger than the age of 30, who came to the United States before the age of 16, will be allowed to remain in the country without risk of deportation and to get work permits if they have been law abiding and meet certain requirements. Although the policy does not grant legal status, work authorization would provide access to Social Security numbers.
Under current Social Security law, that's all that's required to later claim benefits. To file for benefits, individuals don’t need to be citizens, but must have a work–authorized Social Security number. Those receiving work authorization would become vested for benefits with as little as ten years of earnings. The oldest of those who are eligible for the deferred action could feasibly have worked illegally long enough to already be "vested" for Social Security — including disability. This would add to program solvency problems since the Congressional Budget Office and Social Security Trustees have estimated that the Social Security disability trust fund will be fully insolvent by 2016.
Illegal immigrants get jobs using counterfeit, invalid, and stolen Social Security numbers that employers use to withhold payroll taxes and report earnings to the Social Security Administration. Immigration advocates argue that unauthorized workers have little chance of collecting benefits. But once illegal workers gain a valid Social Security that changes. Social Security Administration policy allows noncitizens who have evidence of earnings, even for jobs worked under invalid Social Security numbers, to claim and reinstate those earnings for use in determining entitlement once they obtain their own Social Security number. The earnings are then used to determine the initial retirement benefit amount.
When the Social Security Administration receives wage reports from employers with Social Security numbers and names that don't match those on file, the reports go into an Earnings Suspense File until they can be reconciled with the rightful owner. That can occur years later when an application for benefits is received. Over the past ten years for which data is available the Social Security Administration has received on average, more than 9.5 million suspicious wage reports annually representing more than $69 billion per year in wages. It's wages, not the amount of taxes paid that are used to determine benefits.
TSCL supports the "No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act" (H.R. 787) introduced by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46) which would ban the use of earnings for jobs worked while illegal to be used to determine entitlement.
Sources: “Relief From Deportation: Demographic Profile Of The DREAMers Potentially Eligible Under The Deferred Action Policy, Migration Policy Institute, August 2012.