The Senate voted yesterday to allow illegal aliens to collect Social Security benefits based on past illegal employment -- even if the job was obtained through forged or stolen documents.
"There was a felony they were committing, and now they can't be prosecuted. That sounds like amnesty to me," said Sen. John Ensign, the Nevada Republican who offered the amendment yesterday to strip out those provisions of the immigration reform bill. "It just boggles the mind how people could be against this amendment."
The Ensign amendment was defeated on a 50-49 vote.
"We all know that millions of undocumented immigrants pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for years and sometimes decades while they work to contribute to our economy," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
"The Ensign amendment would undermine the work of these people by preventing lawfully present immigrant workers from claiming Social Security benefits that they earned before they were authorized to work in our community," he said. "If this amendment were enacted, the nest egg that these immigrants have worked hard for would be taken from them and their families."
Mr. Ensign was among 44 Republicans and five Democrats who voted to block such payouts.
"It makes no sense to reward millions of illegal immigrants for criminal behavior while our Social Security system is already in crisis," said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican. "Why in the world would we endorse this criminal activity with federal benefits? The Senate missed a big opportunity to improve this bill, and I doubt American seniors will be pleased with the result."
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said it would be unfair to deny illegals the benefits.
"We should not steal their funds or empty their Social Security accounts," he said. "That is not fair. It does not reward their hard work or their financial contributions. It violates the trust that underlies the Social Security Trust Fund."
Within hours, the vote had become an issue in this fall's elections, raised by a Republican challenger to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat.
"Instead of protecting the retirement security of Americans who are earning an honest living and abiding by the laws of our country, Debbie Stabenow sided with people who are here illegally and abuse our Social Security system," Oakland County, Mich., Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a press release. "Allowing illegal immigrants to use their illegal work history as credit towards receiving Social Security benefits shows that Debbie Stabenow has forgotten who she is supposed to be working for in the U.S. Senate."
The Senate also yesterday approved an amendment to adopt English as the nation's official language, while reversing course from the day before on protections for U.S. workers who will face new competition from unskilled immigrant labor under the Senate bill. In addition, senators voted last night to kill an amendment that would have specified that the guest-worker program will not provide visas that would provide a path to citizenship.
On Wednesday, senators narrowly approved an amendment to require a foreign worker to have a job lined up in the United States before applying for a green card. The purpose, supporters say, is to ensure that the job market isn't flooded with foreign workers. Also, it prevents foreign workers from coming to the United States only to wind up unemployed and dependent on public assistance.
But yesterday, the Senate essentially gutted that amendment by allowing foreign workers to apply for permanent residency without having a job lined up.
"What that means is that up to 200,000 unskilled workers a year would become eligible for a green card, regardless of economic conditions, regardless of whether that worker has been actually employed for four years, and most importantly, regardless of whether there are unemployed U.S. workers available to fill those jobs," said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.