Politico reported recently that President Trump blew a tentative immigration deal that would have allowed Mexico to take in Central American asylum-seekers destined for the U.S. after he “threw a tantrum” over the Mexican government’s refusal to pay for expanded border-fencing.
The president is not out of options, however. For instance, instead of making Mexico pay for the wall, he can make Mexicans pay for it instead.
Ever since the Social Security Administration (SSA) was created in 1935, it has maintained a so-called Earnings Suspense File (ESF), which holds unallocated funds collected from workers whose Social Security numbers don’t match with the name listed in the SSA’s database. These so-called “mismatches” can happen, for instance, when an employer incorrectly records a Social Security number on a worker’s W-2 form or when a newly married woman fails to report her name-change to the SSA.
But by far the biggest cause is believed to be illegal immigration, specifically when an illegal alien steals or acquires a stolen or counterfeit Social Security number in order to obtain above-the-table work in the U.S. The Earnings Suspense File’s balance started seeing a big uptick in the 1970s when illegal immigration began to accelerate, and it’s been tracking the increasing number of illegal entries ever since. Today, the account stands at a whopping 1.2 trillion dollars.
In 1979 the Social Security Administration started a program of notifying employers, and through them employees, of the mismatch and the resulting frozen benefits. Although the “no-match letters” alerted some U.S. citizens and legal immigrants to correct errors in their Social Security accounts, the sending of “no-match letters” was recently ended so as not to discourage illegal aliens who had used counterfeit Social Security numbers from applying for President Obama’s 2012 DACA amnesty.
Illegal aliens, believed to be the major source of the problem and the major recipients of the letters, had little reason to respond and cooperate with the agency. Social Security number fraud is a serious felony, and they know they’ll never see the benefits anyway.
When an illegal alien purchases or steals a Social Security number through a counterfeit document, the American victim is perceived by the tax authorities to have income coming in they’re not actually reporting. This can lead to threatening letters and audits from the IRS and even the freezing of their disability or unemployment payments.
Further, resolving a stolen Social Security number has been estimated to cost the average victim $1,400 and years in time and effort. And if Social Security numbers are stolen from American children, because minors don’t normally use their Social Security numbers, the resulting fraud can continue for years before being discovered.
Instead of having Mexico pay for new fencing on our southern border, we could use the Earnings Suspense File funds to pay for theirs. The large majority of the growth in illegal immigration now comes from Mexico’s southern neighbors: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; aka the “Northern Triangle.”
Although the Mexican government has traditionally done all it can to facilitate the passage of Northern Triangle aliens to the U.S. (so Mexico doesn’t develop an illegal-alien problem like ours), during the surge of illegal-alien minors in 2014 when pre-DACA numbers jumped from 15,000 to 70,000 post-DACA, the Mexican government did actually respond to calls from the Obama State Department to do something.
Using funds provided by the State Department, Mexico established it’s so-called “Southern Border Plan,” which increased its own border-enforcement agency as well as repatriation rates. In the year before the surge, Mexico apprehended 80,000 aliens from the Northern Triangle compared to our own 140,000. After the Southern Border Plan was initiated, apprehensions more than doubled, eclipsing U.S. rates by more than 50 percent.
Mexico could still do much more, and providing additional funds through the Earnings Suspense File to beef up our “third border” would go a very long way. Due to a 1997 class action settlement negotiated by the Clinton administration, and a string of obstructive court decisions interpreting that settlement, our immigration authorities are now largely paralyzed when it comes to removing many if not most illegal border-crossers. Court-weakened asylum standards, a ban on detention in many cases and the ability of attorneys to delay removal hearings sometimes for years have kept illegal-entry levels lofty (and the revenue of smuggling-cartels high).
Mexico lacks these constraints. In the United States, illegal-alien minors caught at the border, whether accompanied by their parents or not, must now be released and then trusted to show up for their hearing date. Unsurprisingly, they rarely do. As a result, U.S. immigration authorities remove only around three out of every 100 unaccompanied alien minors they apprehend. This compares to a rate of almost 90 for Mexico’s immigration authorities. By providing funds to Mexico, we could be greatly leveraging the kind of removal capabilities we no longer have.
Given the pressures from the cheap-labor, ethnic, and immigration lawyer lobbies advocating ever more immigration, reducing illegal immigration requires new ideas. Exhausted from decades of endless empty talk from our politicians, the American people want solutions, whether “Mexico pays for it” or not.
• Jan C. Ting, is a professor at the Temple University Beasley School of Law