By Jan C. Ting
Last summer, a House Ways and Means subcommittee heard testimony from the Social Security Administration acting commissioner about the widespread and ongoing theft of Social Security numbers (SSNs)from the American public. Despite its pervasiveness, the illegal alien side of the problem is rarely raised by the media or in Congress. Illegal immigration in general wasn’t mentioned at all during the May 17 hearing. And when the media does cover it, it’s commonly used as a rallying cry to support mass amnesty — the claim being that “illegal aliens pay into the system” and, therefore, “are as American as you and me.”
In 2013, the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Chief Actuary estimated that more than 40 percent of all illegal aliens working in the U.S. were doing so using fake or stolen SSNs. Elsewhere, the office has put the figure as high as 75 percent. And the crime is as serious as it is widespread. By getting tied to bad credit or unreported income out of the blue, the victim can become falsely frozen out of his Social Security benefits or face audits from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The impact takes years and thousands of dollars, on average, for the victim to reconcile.
The most vulnerable targets for SSN theft are children. Because children generally don’t use their SSNs until they turn 18, the crime can go undetected for years, meaning they’re prime targets for black-market operators. One study by Carnegie Mellon University estimated U.S. children are 51 times more likely to have their SSNs stolen than adults.
I’ve previously reported how the Obama administration modified the application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to require applying illegal aliens to report only any Social Security number issued to them personally, instead of all Social Security numbers they’ve ever used, which would be confessing to a felony. Even less reported is the Social Security Administration’s policy of not only giving DACA aliens credit for the taxes they’ve paid into Social Security after their enrollment, but also crediting them with the Social Security taxes paid in before they enrolled. That is, DACA aliens get to keep the benefits tied to wages earned unlawfully in the U.S. — benefits earned while using a Social Security Number that is fake or stolen (and, again, mostly likely from American children).
That the issue of illegal aliens’ abuse of SSNs wasn’t put to the acting commissioner at the recent hearing was actually surprising. Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson, Texas Republican, introduced a bill in 2015, the No Social Security Numbers for Illegal Aliens Act, which would have expressly ended the issuance of Social Security numbers to illegal aliens. Considering many DACA aliens have already been working in the country for two decades (the oldest DACA recipients are 37), the benefits linked to their unauthorized jobs and stolen SSNs are likely sizable.
This gives rise to a proposed remedy to the whole DACA debate: Remove those funds earned before and after receiving DACA status from Social Security Administration’s trust fund and cut a check to DACA aliens as an incentive to repatriate. For years, the Israeli government has done something similar. In January, it expanded its Voluntary Repatriation Program to offer $3,500 in “exit payments” along with a free plane ticket to any one of its 40,000 Eritrean and Sudanese illegal aliens willing to return home. As an added incentive to act, the amount of the exit payment decreases as the program ages. With adjustments, this can be replicated here.
Such a program might also present a golden opportunity for recipient nations, including Mexico and Central American countries. For Mexico, analysts estimate that over the years the U.S. has taken in more than 10 percent of its working-age population. What could be said of the impact? Has such a mass outflow of able-bodied, downtrodden people actually kept social pressures at bay in Mexico? Maintaining an atmosphere of fatalism and restraining the mood for change as a result? That Mexico’s elite consistently criticize and attack our immigration laws suggests an answer.
DACA aliens could return to and help reform their home countries. Most Americans, especially those under 30, move a lot in their lives — around 12 times on average with over 40 percent moving out of state. In the case of DACA aliens, moving back to their home countries could become a “movement,” one where young and middle-aged, moderately wealthy and educated individuals create the pressure necessary to move toward true rule-of-law societies. A legal end to DACA could strengthen the rule of law in the U.S. as well. In other words, it could fulfill a “dream,” both for recipients and for Americans.
• Jan C. Ting is professor of law at the Temple University Beasley School of Law.