immigration

Undocumented workers, through the use of bogus Social Security cards, have been paying billions of dollars in the last decade to the Social Security Agency (SSA). Last year alone, Fernando, an undocumented worker who agreed to speak with The Paisano, had to pay $1,680 for Social Security and $450 for Medicare.

The money that Fernando and several other million undocumented workers pay every year goes to an account that some have called the SSA’s “secret stash,” the Earning Suspense File (ESF).

The ESF retains taxes that do not match a person’s identity in the SSA’s database until they can be correctly assigned and placed with a valid name and Social Security Number (SSN). As of October 2009, the ESF had accumulated about $836 billion in wages and $296 million wage items. 

In 1937, during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Earning Suspense File was created; its initial purpose was to save the contributions of taxpayers who had misspelled their names, had faulty Social Security information or the newlyweds who didn’t change their names. Since the SSA maintains its data for a long time, individuals with earnings missing from their records can have them properly posted on their funds. Could it be that millions of taxpayers just forgot to ask for their legitimate money? This is highly unlikely. The significant increase in the account is caused mostly by undocumented workers.

“Millions of today’s illegal workers could be eligible for hundreds of billions in Social Security dollars, as evidenced by the dramatic growth of the Earnings Suspense File,” SSA General Inspector Patrick P. O’Carroll said when interviewed on Jul. 27, 2010 to PR Newswire.

According to PR Newswire, from 1937 to 1999, 63 years from its creation , the Earnings Suspense File has collected  $301.8 billion dollars. From 1999 to 2009, the account went from $301 billion to $836 billion dollars. In 2007 alone, the ESF grew by $90 billion in wages twice the value of Facebook.

In December 2007, the Congressional Budget Office estimated somewhere between 50  and 75 percent of undocumented workers pay taxes each year. An estimate of $567 billion that immigrants had contributed in the last 20 years includes tax on consumption, Social Security payments and Medicare. Undocumented workers often get Social Security numbers with fake information or faulty data, and like any other cardholders they are charged a percentage for their paycheck.

Fernando, whose deduction comes punctually every payday, knows he will not be receiving the benefits from his contributions. Nonetheless, he does not mind, or at least he claims so.

“It all comes down to sending money home.”

He takes the money taken from him as a “payment” for the opportunity to work in the United States, much as other things he has sacrificed, like being with his family or bowling, to which he is an aficionado.

Like Fernando, millions of illegal immigrants are bolstering the Social Security Agency’s accounts. Even when the working conditions of many immigrants border slavery, many of the undocumented workers will continue their 70 hours until death does its part; either that or the hope of being retired by their already struggling sons—if they happen to be in the United States.

The contributions of the illegal immigrants have not gone unnoticed by the public. In particular, it has brought the attention of a certain group that has a great interest in the SSA “secret stash”:  The League of Senior Citizens (TLSC).

“Our more than one million supporters are crystal clear on one thing – they don’t want one penny of their Social Security checks now, or in the future, to be taken away by the government and given to today’s illegal workers as a reward for illegal work,” said Daniel O’Connell, spokesman of the TLSC.

One of the main concerns of the TLSC is an agreement signed between the Mexican Social Security Institute and the SSA: The U.S.-Mexico Totalization Agreement.  The treaty, which was signed on June 29, 2004 by Jo Anne Barnhart, Social Security Commissioner and Dr. Santiago Levy, Head of the Mexican Social Security, might be the only chance of ever returning the contributions given to the taxpaying immigrants. The agreement has not been implemented since it has not been signed by the President of the United States.

The agreement’s goal, according to the SSA website, is to “eliminate dual social security taxation that occurs when a worker from one country works in another country and is required to pay social security taxes to both countries on the same earnings.”

It is easy to understand that such an agreement would offer protection to “those who have divided their career between the U.S. and Mexico.” In sum, the agreement allows both citizens of the United States and of Mexico to continue accumulating benefits even when they are on the other side of the border.

The agreement, after it is signed by the President of the United States, must undergo a 60-day revision period during which either the House or the Senate can vote against it. If the latter doesn’t occur, the agreement is considered law.

Shannon Benton, TLSC’s executive director, does not think the agreement is such a great idea. In a radio interview with Jeff Katz on Jun. 29, 2009, Benton said that the real problem was that Mexico’s social security program is extremely different to the one used in the U.S.

“The U.S. system is much more progressive, meaning lower wage earners get back much more than they put in. In Mexico, workers retrieve only what they put in plus accrued interest,” said Benton.

The League of Senior Citizens, through the freedom of information act, requested a copy of the agreement from the State Department and the Social Security Agency. When the SSA sent TLSC a copy of the agreement more than half of it was crossed with a black marker—due to official censorship.

“I’m sorry the government wasted their money on so many Sharpies,” said Benton.

The TLSC has filed lawsuits, one against the State Department and one against the Social Security Administration, asking to have an uncensored copy of the agreement.

“I think our attorney has learned through the years not to try and guess what we’re going to get,” said Benton when interviewed by Katz. “We feel that we are in it for the long haul. We want to see a copy of the agreement, where does the agreement stand today.”

Surprisingly, the agreement is already available to the public, both in English and in Spanish; It is located on the SSA website under the title “U.S.-Mexican Social Security Agreement.”

In the past, none of the 24 previous Totalization agreements the United States has engaged with other countries have been repealed. However, this time might be different; the political cost of retiring several million dozes of undocumented immigrants who have worked in the U.S. either legally or illegally, could be too much to bear for any political party.

After the President signs the treaty, the 60-day revision period to which the treaty is subjected can be mayhem, especially when the million-strong TLSC members flood the street and the Capital’s lobbies, furiously opposing an agreement that for some reason they—but not the public in general— have been prohibited to read.

Fernando is unwillingly waiting with arms folded. He, due to his illegal status, is incapable of voicing his desire to eventually retire for his extraneous 70-hour work schedule.

” I am not going to ask for that money, and if they give it to me, I don’t even know if I am going to show up there to accept it,” Fernando said. “What am I supposed to tell them anyway?  ‘Thank you, now deport me?’ The less I deal with authorities the better.”

Fernando has been working in the U.S. for eight years now; he has always been on his feet
, ready to flee at the first sign of trouble.

Even though his wages are meager, Fernando, like most law-abiding citizens, has been religiously filing his income tax return since he came to the United States. He is still unsure of what to do with his refund.

“Perhaps I’ll finally go bowling,” he said.

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