Will Immigration Reform Put Illegal Immigrants On Path To Social Security?

Will Immigration Reform Put Illegal Immigrants On Path To Social Security?

A push in the House to give legal status to illegal immigrants is reviving some movement toward immigration legislation this year. But the effort is running into outspoken opposition, including that from TSCL's grass roots senior members and supporters. At issue is whether undocumented immigrants, who have used fraudulent Social Security numbers to get jobs, would be allowed to claim Social Security payments based on earnings under those numbers.

A lot is at stake. Members of Congress and President Obama have been considering cuts to Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to lower government spending – cuts that still remain on the bargaining table. In addition, the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund will be fully exhausted in just three years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. An immigration amnesty would give new access to Social Security for an estimated 11.5 illegal immigrants currently in the U.S., who would become eligible for benefits that potentially include credit for earnings under fraudulent Social Security numbers.

Here's how it works. Undocumented immigrants use illegally obtained Social Security numbers (SSNs) to get jobs. Employers report earnings to the Social Security Administration as required by law. Those wages are used to calculate benefits when a worker files a claim. But when the Social Security Administration receives a name or SSN on a W-2 that does not match the agency's records, the wage report goes into an earnings suspense file (ESF) while attempts are made to reconcile the discrepancy.

The most recent data from the Social Security Administration indicate that, in recent years, the ESF grew at an unprecedented pace. Cumulative wages held in the ESF since 1990 now total more than $1,022.5 trillion, unadjusted for inflation. A significant portion of these wages could later be claimed and re-instated to valid SSNs if immigrants working illegally gain work authorization and have kept copies of their W2s or other evidence of earnings. Because earnings are used to determine entitlement, this poses a substantial long-term liability to the Social Security Trust Fund and would worsen solvency.

TSCL supports legislation that would prohibit the use of earnings under invalid and fraudulent Social Security numbers from being used to determine Social Security entitlement and benefits. To learn more, read TSCL's FAQ, “How 'Undocumented' Workers Are Becoming Entitled To Social Security".


Source: "Immigration Bill Splitting House G.O.P.," Jonathan Weisman and Ashley Parker, The Washington Post, April 4, 2014.