“Secret” Social Security File Clue to Long-Term Cost of Immigration Reform

“Secret” Social Security File Clue to Long-Term Cost of Immigration Reform

Alexandria, VA: A little-known file maintained by the Social Security Administration suggests that significant long-term costs are associated with immigration reform, according to a new report released today by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL). The report examines data from the Social Security Earnings Suspense File, which has received 161.7 million suspicious W2s from 1990 through 2011 totaling over $1 trillion in wages. The suspicious W2s have names, Social Security numbers, or both, that don't match the Social Security Administration's records — which occurs when undocumented immigrants use fake or fraudulent Social Security numbers to work.

"The Earnings Suspense File isn't getting enough attention from Congress," says TSCL Chairman, Ed Cates. "Wages are an important indicator of the extra costs associated with immigration reform," Cates notes. Wage records are used to determine both the number of quarters worked to qualify for Social Security, and to calculate the initial benefit. The wages represented by the Earnings Suspense File would potentially form a portion of Social Security benefits for undocumented workers who later gain legal status.

Under current law, immigrants who work without legal authorization, but who later gain legal status, aren't prosecuted for using fraudulent or even stolen Social Security numbers. Those who kept evidence of earnings, like W2s, could later reinstate unauthorized earnings under a valid Social Security number and legally claim benefits based on those illegal earnings. Suspicious wage reports remain in the Earnings Suspense File until the Social Security Administration receives evidence to link the unidentified earnings to a valid work-authorized Social Security number.

TSCL's report contains one of the only up-to-date compilations of Social Security's Earnings Suspense File data, based on government documents, and updated with the most recent Social Security Administration data annually. The data indicate that in the years immediately following the 1986 immigration amnesty, the Earnings Suspense File grew at an unprecedented pace. From 2000 to 2011 the number of mismatched wage reports doubled, jumping from 52 million reported from 1990 to 1999 to 109.7 million from 2000 to 2011. In addition, the amount of average annual wages represented by the reports has also grown considerably since the 1990s — about 60%, after adjusting for inflation.

"Even under limited immigration reform that provides only work authorization and a valid Social Security number, immigrants would become entitled to Social Security benefits," Cates says. "Citizenship is not a requirement to receive benefits," he adds. But with Congress and President Obama debating cuts to Social Security, seniors are lining up against reform that would allow millions of new immigrants to benefit from work under fraudulent numbers. A recent TSCL survey found that 87 percent of seniors strongly favor prohibiting payment of Social Security benefits that are based on earnings from unauthorized work. TSCL supports immigration reform measures that would prohibit earnings from work prior to gaining legal authorization for use in determining Social Security benefits.


 With about 1 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation's largest nonpartisan seniors groups. Located just outside Washington, D.C., its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of TREA The Enlisted Association. Please visit www.SeniorsLeague.org or call 1-800-333-8725 for more information.