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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

SAW, Social Security

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers program attracted 1.3 million applications from foreigners who said they did at least 90 days of farm work in 1985-86 as unauthorized workers. The SAW program was written so that, once an unauthorized foreigner asserted that he qualified for legal status, the burden of proof shifted to the government to disprove the alien's claim. The government was not prepared to question the work histories submitted by SAW applicants, and the SAW program allowed 1.2 million to become immigrants.

Two of the foreigners who obtained immigrant status under the SAW program were the Egyptian brothers Mahmud and Mohammed Abouhalima. Both entered the US on tourist visas before 1986 and stayed in the US, working as a cab drivers. Both receive immigrant status under the SAW program. Mahmud was convicted for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, and Mohammed was convicted of being an accessory after the fact for helping his brother escape to Egypt.

Social Security. The Social Security Administration will no longer issue numbers to foreigners to use to apply for driver's licenses, even though 10 states require applicants for driver's licenses to provide SSNs. Before September 11, some states, including Virginia, North Carolina and Michigan, accepted forms of identification that could be obtained without legal US residency. North Carolina, for example, accepted the Taxpayer Identification Number issued by the Internal Revenue Service and used by many undocumented immigrants, who are ineligible for Social Security numbers, while Michigan gave licenses to immigrants who could produce ID cards issued by the Mexican Consulate, matriculas.

In 2000, the Social Security Administration issued over 5.5 million original SSNs, including 1.2 million were to non-citizens and 100,000 to non-citizens suspected of using false documents. The SSA inspector general estimated that as many as one in 12 foreigners obtaining new Social Security numbers illegally using false documents to get the cards. About eight percent of the more than 1.2 million original Social Security numbers assigned to noncitizens in 2000 may have been obtained with invalid documents: Fake or illegally obtained Social Security numbers are often the first step in identity theft.

The Social Security Administration sent 750,000 "mismatch letters" to employers throughout the United States in 2002, including 225,000 to employers in California, telling them they had reported invalid SSNs when they reported employee earnings and SSNs; some 110,000 letters were sent in 2001. Some seven to 10 million SSNs a year do not match agency records, and these wage reports are not corrected unless, for instance, a worker applies for benefits, notices the missing wages, and gets the SSA to correct its records.

SSA says that it wants to correct its records so that all workers receive proper credit for their earnings. However, immigrant advocates have teamed up with employers to condemn the SSA push to clean up mismatches, saying "These [SSA] checks only serve to hurt immigrants and to hurt the companies that depend on them." Unions say that some employers use SSA mismatch letters to intimidate or fire employees.

If employers do not correct mismatches within 30 days, the IRS can levy a $50 fine for each mis-match, up to $250,000 a year per employer. However, to fine an employer, the IRS must prove the employer intended to provide the incorrect information. The 21,000 member American Payroll Association warns employers that the IRS could soon begin to levy fines.

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