- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

Privacy concerns prevent the Social Security Administration from notifying an employer that a hired foreign national is not authorized to work in this country, including someone who may be a potential national security risk, says a government audit.

The audit, by the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General, also found the agency fears employers will improperly terminate the illegal workers who have been issued Social Security numbers, leading to “adverse publicity.”

“Unauthorized work by noncitizens weakens [Social Security number] integrity and may require that the agency pay benefits to these individuals,” said Inspector General Patrick P. O’Carroll Jr. in the audit.

“In addition, noncitizens who work without (Department of Homeland Security) authorization could affect homeland security because they may obtain employment in sensitive areas.”

Since 2003, the SSA has issued Social Security numbers, dubbed “non-working,” to foreign nationals who need them to collect state or federal benefits, such as public assistance.

The audit released last month as immigration-reform debate heated up on Capitol Hill says 109,064 foreign nationals used their non-working Social Security numbers to report earnings at 100 companies reviewed between 2001 to 2002. It said hundreds of thousands more also are using their Social Security cards illegally.

The report said employers that posted the largest number of illegal wage earners were government, retail and universities, and the largest number of noncitizens with earnings under a non-working Social Security number were from Mexico, India and the Philippines.

The report said the average wage item ranged from $7,700 in the staffing industry to $102,000 in the technology industry, and technology and government accounted for $4 billion, or 64 percent, of the wages posted to non-working Social Security numbers by the 100 targeted employers.

To reduce the number of noncitizens who work without authorization, Mr. O’Carroll said SSA should consider examining its interpretation of existing disclosure laws and, if necessary, seek legislation allowing the agency to notify employers.

“We recognize the agency has not been tasked with the mission of immigration and workplace enforcement,” Mr. O’Carroll said. “Accordingly, we believe maintaining the integrity of its [Social Security number] records should be of paramount concern to the agency as it accomplishes its legislatively mandated mission.”

SSA officials disagreed with the recommendations, saying they would have a minimal effect while creating a substantial workload, both in systems development and in the field offices.

They also cited privacy concerns, saying they were limited by the Privacy Act in what the could disclose to employers about a foreign national working in the United States.

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