Illegal Immigrants Pay Social Security Tax, Won’t Benefit

John Lantigua, Seattle Times, December 30, 2011

While many Americans believe illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes, billions of dollars deducted from paychecks issued to undocumented workers flow to the Social Security Administration (SSA) every year. Those workers almost certainly will never see that money again.

Social Security officials keep a record of wages that do not match up with real names and numbers in their system. The record is called the earnings suspense file.

In 2009, the last year for which figures are available, employers reported wages of $72.8 billion for 7.7 million workers who could not be matched to legal Social Security numbers.

That total hit a record $90.4 billion, earned by 10.8 million workers, in 2007, just before the recession. Some of those were legal workers who simply made paperwork mistakes, but the majority are believed to be illegal immigrants.

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“When you hear people voicing anti-immigrant sentiments, one of the first things they say is, ‘They don’t pay any taxes, and they just take money out of the system,’ ” said Jeannie Economos of the Farmworker Association Florida, based in Apopka, Fla. “But that just isn’t true. Yes, some are paid under the table, but the majority are paid by check, and they pay taxes out of those checks.”

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Employers are obligated to ask for a Social Security number, but they don’t have to confirm it is real. That has led to the printing of millions of false Social Security cards sold to newly arrived illegal immigrants.

The SSA notifies employers every year of Social Security numbers and workers that don’t match up. Employers tell employees they have to get new cards.

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A false SSA card, accompanied by a phony alien registration card–known as a green card–can be had for about $200 in Florida, Economos said.

Some immigrant advocates encourage illegal immigrants to save their check stubs in the hope that they one day might be able to claim their Social Security benefits . . . .

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Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a leading voice for stricter immigration enforcement, concedes illegal immigrants put billions of dollars into Social Security. He says the figure he has heard is about $7 billion per year in FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) contributions–Social Security plus Medicare.

“But that $7 billion figure pales when compared to the cost of having illegal aliens here,” Mehlman said.

His federation estimates local, state and federal spending on illegal immigrants–mainly for education and health care–costs about $100 billion per year.

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When it comes to withholding tax, the amount taken out of the checks of illegal immigrants differs. Because most never will file a tax return and have no chance of receiving a refund, some workers claim many dependents so they don’t pay much in the first place.

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