When I was 17-years-old, I had a summer job at a bakery here in New York City. And in that bakery, working alongside me were a bunch of guys from a province just south of Mexico City called Puebla. They worked the overnight shift. And sometimes I would stay up all night with them—I’d help them with the baking and they’d help me get better at Spanish. Now, all of these guys were in the country without permission. But because I worked with them, I learned that all of them had Social Security numbers.
The way it generally works in this country’s vast grey labor market is that unauthorized immigrant workers use a Social Security number tied to a made-up name or one that belonged to someone else—like a relative or someone deceased. If they entered the country under a temporary work visa, in that case they could obtain a legal social security card and use that, even if they ended up overstaying their visa.
And despite all this banshee wailing from the likes of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Rush Limbaugh that unauthorized immigrants are moochers, just sucking off the nation’s teat. It turns out, that because they have Social Security numbers, they’re paying payroll taxes, they’re paying into Social Security. In fact, according to the Washington Post, in ”2007, the Social Security trust fund had received a net benefit of somewhere between $120 billion and $240 billion from unauthorized immigrants.”
Now, I don’t know where those guys I baked bread with at 17 are today. A bunch of them are probably back in Mexico, with the rest still here and likely among the nation’s 11 million person shadow workforce. But I do know that they’re almost certainly not collecting Social Security checks because unauthorized immigrants are ineligible for Social Security benefits even though they are required to pay the same taxes as all other workers.
But if any of them were to become a citizen, they have the opportunity to benefit from their actual work record. Those who used a made up number or overstayed a visa could, when they became legal, show proof to the Social Security Administration of their prior work record and have their own, legal, proper, Social Security account credited with the wages they paid in. Which seems fair enough.
Well, on Monday night, that changed a little bit. The Senate closed a vote that would put an end to that practice.
The Senate voted to approve the new amended version of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, which includes the Corker-Hoeven amendment, a so-called “border surge” designed to win more Republican votes. But buried in this amendment is language that instructs the U.S. government to confiscate the Social Security taxes paid by all unauthorized workers between 2004 and 2014, even after they gain citizenship status. Doesn’t matter that they paid in like everyone else. It’s now ours and they don’t get it back.
And if you didn’t know about this detail, I bet you that some of the people voting for this thing didn’t even know about it because everyone was all excited about getting close to 70 votes, about winning Republican support and everyone shook hands, before they spent much time looking at the details.
These include: doubling the number of border patrol agents from 20,000 to 40,000, that means an agent for every 1000 feet of the southern border— where Corker and Hoeven want to construct 700 miles of fencing—that’s twice as much as authorized in the original version bill. And not only that, but the amendment changes the bill so that border patrol agents can search vehicles within a reasonable distance of the southern border, which is defined as 100 miles.
Which takes us up to Mitt Romney’s beach-front home in La Jolla, California—which falls within the purview. And a lot of the implementation of these border security measures will almost certainly be contracted out to private companies, prompting Senator Patrick Leahy to say this on the floor.”The modifications to the Leahy amendment before us reads like a Christmas wish list for Haliburton.”
And get this, while we pour money into fencing and armed agents on the border, the task force charged with oversight for this increasingly militarized stretch of our country, will not have any subpoena power. Now, it may be that the amendment with all of its pork-barrel spending and punitive measures is an acceptable price to pay for a path to citizenship for 11 million people, but let’s not lose sight of what’s happening here. Every time Republicans get a chance to, they are making this bill less humane, more expensive and worse for our country.
And this thing hasn’t even hit the House yet. Just wait till Louis Gohmert and his gang get their hands on it.