NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 15, 2008

Despite protests from businesses, organized labor, and immigrant-rights groups, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is pressing ahead with a controversial rule to use Social Security records to enforce immigration laws.

  • Since 1994, the Social Security Administration has sent "no-match" letters to most employers if the name and Social Security number on a worker's W-2 form do not agree with the agency's records.
  • The letter asks the employer to correct the discrepancy within 60 days so Social Security can properly credit a worker's earnings; there are no penalties if an employer does not respond.
  • Homeland Security wants to send employers its own letter giving them 90 days to correct the problem or fire the worker.
  • Employers are subject to civil fines of as much as $16,000 per worker for knowingly employing illegal immigrants, and those who make a practice of it face criminal charges that carry a maximum prison term of five years.

Many illegal workers use fake Social Security numbers to get jobs, but opponents of DHS's plan point out that mismatches can occur for legitimate reasons, such as clerical errors, unreported name changes, and inaccurate employment records:

  • Social Security's inspector general found that discrepancies in approximately 17.8 million (4 percent) of the 435 million records in the agency's database could result in mismatches,
  • Also more than 70 percent of discrepancies -- 12.7 million people -- involve native-born U.S. citizens.
  • The DHS's own estimates suggest that as many as 70,000 legal workers could lose their jobs because of the rule, says AFL-CIO attorney Ana Avendano.

Source: Lisa Caruso, "Wrong Number," National Journal, April 7, 2008.

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