Social Security, immigrants and fraud

August 25, 2007

More than a year after the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Inspector General issued a report highlighting flaws in the nation's employment verification system, the agency has done little autonomously or with other agencies to remedy the problem of immigrants working illegally in the United States. President Bush, now in his sixth year and vowing to finally enforce our nation's immigration policies, should encourage the agency to cease its foot-dragging.

The Inspector General's June 2006 report identified more than 109,000 cases from 2001 through 2003 in which immigrants fraudulently use government-issued, "non-work" Social Security numbers to obtain employment without authorization. Astonishingly, the problem is particularly rampant among government employees at all levels — local, state and federal. The SSA Inspector General estimated taxpayers shelled out more than $635 million in wages to illegal workers from tax years 2001 through 2003. These figures are staggering.

SSA's Inspector General also laid out recommendations on how the agency could alleviate this problem, including coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security and encouraging employers to use a free online system, now called E-Verify, to confirm whether new hires are eligible to work in the United States. SSA flatly rejected its IG's recommendations and has done virtually nothing since then toward solving the dilemma.

While it's true that some progress has been made in the enforcement area — Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has, for instance, more than tripled its worksite arrests of illegal immigrants and employers from 2005 to 2006 — there is much room for improvement. Earlier this month, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced a broad new effort to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Mr. Chertoff especially targeted workers hired illegally for government jobs, promising to amend federal code to require federal contractors to use E-Verify on all potential contractors to assure their eligibility. Unfortunately, an ICE spokeswoman estimated the new regulation would take at least a year to craft and longer to implement. Such a delay is unwarranted, as the E-Verify system, while admittedly imperfect, is by and large user-friendly and efficient.

SSA provides ICE with data on immigrants who hold Social Security numbers but are ineligible for employment, however, these reports are often outdated and incomplete. Policymakers must work to streamline this bureaucratic process by demanding increased communication between ICE and SSA on employment verification. Mr. Bush and Mr. Chertoff, if they are to fulfill their enforcement goals, must urge SSA to begin cooperating in the effort to curb the fraud being committed by illegal aliens as well as immigrants who want to work in our country. ... 50003/1013