By Mary Johnson
Here’s something hard to believe, but true. Our government is paying Social Security benefits to thousands of Mexicans who don’t live in this country, or were never entitled to benefits based on their own work record. A new report from the Social Security Office of Inspector General details the growing problem of thousands of Mexicans who routinely visit the United States once a month to establish a claim to Social Security benefits.
Who are these beneficiaries? The Inspector General’s report refers to these beneficiaries as dependents and survivors of other Social Security beneficiaries and subject to the Social Security Alien Nonpayment Provision (ANP) law. The ANP forbids payment of retirement, survivor and disability benefits when non-citizens have been outside the United States for more than 6 months. But as is so often the case with Social Security law, there are several exceptions; for example, if the non-citizen is from a foreign country that has its own social insurance system and meets certain conditions. Mexico is on the list of countries that meet the conditions of the exception.
U.S. law requires that, in order to meet the requirements, ANP beneficiaries must “establish physical presence” in the United States to receive benefits. One of the easiest options is to “enter the U.S. for any part of 1 day before 30 days elapse.”
The Inspector General’s Office recently surveyed 4 field Social Security field offices along the border with Mexico in California and Texas. Each office provided services to about 1,000 such beneficiaries every month. Personnel say the number is increasing for three reasons:
- Beneficiaries are telling other Mexicans about the Social Security benefits.
- Mexican consulate officials are informing people about the availability of such benefits.Survivor claims are increasing due to recent violence in Mexico.
- Survivor claims are increasing due to recent violence in Mexico.
One further reason for the growth is undoubtedly the growth in the primary beneficiary rolls, upon which the benefits of ANP dependents and survivors are based. According to the Inspector General, older non-citizens workers are now at the age and have worked in this country long enough to be potentially eligible to file claims for retirement or disability. The Inspector General has also said that those who worked using invalid, or non-work Social Security numbers issued prior to January 1, 2004, did not need valid work authorization in order to file a claim. Under current law the Social Security Administration uses all earnings, including those for illegal work, to determine entitlement to benefits.
To date the government has no comprehensive estimate of the costs of such policies on the Social Security Trust Fund, or the cost of benefits based on illegal work. Nevertheless, Congress is studying a number of changes to Social Security that would cut the benefits of both future and current U.S. senior citizen beneficiaries who worked and paid into Social Security legally.
TSCL believes the time has come for Congress to put the needs of U.S. senior citizens and taxpayers first. We support legislation that would ban the use of illegal earnings in determining entitlement to Social Security such as S. 95, to Prevent Social Security Credit from Being Earned without Legal Status, introduced by Senator David Vitter (LA), and “No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act” (H.R. 787), introduced by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (CA).
Sources: Impact of Alien Nonpayment Provisions on Field Offices Along the Mexican Border, Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, February 2011 A-08-10-20140. Impact of Unauthorized Employment on Social Security Benefits, Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, December 2006, A-14-05-14042.