Would Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration Help Social Security’s Solvency?

Would Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration Help Social Security’s Solvency?

By Mary Johnson, Editor

When President Obama announced his massive immigration executive action last fall, a White House fact sheet said the actions would "expand the country's tax base by millions of people and billions of dollars." Then in a plainly self-contradictory statement, the fact sheet goes on to say that many of the 5 million individuals who would be eligible for work authorization and deportation protection “are already in the workforce contributing federal, state, and local taxes. But roughly two-third of them don’t pay taxes today." The White House thus implies that executive action would add solvency to the program, because most of the people it affects aren't paying taxes into the program today.

If true, how much would Social Security's financing be improved?

The statement that "nearly two-thirds of undocumented immigrants affected by the president's executive action don't pay taxes today" doesn't appear to be supported by the government's own data, and is contradicted by statements from Social Security's own Chief Actuary Stephen Goss. Goss was quoted in The New York Times as saying that about "three-quarters of other-than-legal immigrants" already pay payroll taxes. And the Social Security Administration receives on average about 9 million copies of suspicious wage and payroll tax reports a year in which the Social Security number and name don’t match those on Social Security records. This situation frequently occurs when undocumented immigrants illegally work under invalid or fraudulent Social Security numbers. But if that's the case, awarding work authorization and Social Security numbers now would make up to 5 million individuals eligible to claim permanent Social Security and Medicare benefits based on earnings under those illegitimate wage reports.

Earlier this year Goss confirmed this when he estimated the impact of the president's executive actions on Social Security, saying that the initiative would increase the number of people paying into Social Security and it "will also result in additional individuals gaining insured status for benefits from Social Security." Goss estimated that "the executive actions do not change the year in which the combined trust fund reserves would become depleted, but the projected depletion would occur later in the year 2033, (by about 3 months)."

The fate of President Obama’s controversial executive action on immigration remains tied up in court. Texas and 25 other states, supported by TSCL, 12 other groups, and 113 Members of Congress are challenging the legality of Obama’s actions. TSCL and the others argue in an amicus curiae brief, that "the President acted contrary to both the express and implied will of Congress."



Sources: Fact Sheet: "The Economic Benefits Of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System," White House, November 21, 2014. Letter to The Honorable Ron Johnson, from Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, February 2, 2015.