Rare use of Social Security numbers and IRS data to search for illegal immigrant workers

Liz Chandler of Knight Ridder has reported on an impasse in the federal government which has prevented the use of federal records to locate and arrest illegal immigrants. “Most immigrants simply use Social Security numbers to get work, experts say. They make up numbers, buy them on forged cards, or steal them,’ she wrote. But prosecutors cannot easily access this information, and cannot access IRS data at all. And Social Security and the IRS do not cooperate.
Excerpting from her article:
Two federal agencies are refusing to turn over a mountain of evidence that investigators could use to indict the nation’s burgeoning workforce of illegal immigrants and the firms that employ them. The IRS and the Social Security Administration routinely collect strong evidence of potential workplace crimes, including names and addresses of millions of people who are using bogus Social Security numbers, their wage records and the identities of the bosses who knowingly hire them. The two agencies don’t analyze their data to root out likely immigration fraud – and they won’t share their millions of records so that law enforcement agencies can do that, either. Privacy laws, they say, prohibit them from sharing their files with anyone, except in rare criminal investigations.


But the agencies don’t even use the power they have. The IRS doesn’t fine even the most egregious employers who repeatedly submit inaccurate data about their workers. Social Security does virtually nothing to alert citizens whose Social Security numbers are being used by others. Evidence abounds within their files, according to an analysis by Knight Ridder and The Charlotte Observer.
One internal study found that a restaurant company had submitted 4,100 duplicate Social Security numbers for workers. Other firms submit inaccurate names or numbers reports for nearly all of their employees. One child’s Social Security number was used 742 times by workers in 42 states.
In last week’s bust at IFCO Systems North America Inc., a Houston-based maker of wooden pallets, more than half the workers were using invalid or stolen Social Security numbers. The IRS wants to protect the privacy of its records because disclosing them might cause companies and employees to stop reporting income and paying taxes – and go underground where exploitation is more certain.
The records at issue are the earnings reports, sent by employers along with money withheld for taxes and Social Security. They contain workers’ names and Social Security numbers, and when they don’t match Social Security records, the information is set aside in what’s called the Earnings Suspense File. Created in 1937, the file contains about 255 million unmatched wage reports representing $520 billion paid to workers but not credited to their Social Security earnings records.
Typos and name changes can cause wage reports not to match Social Security records. But increasingly, officials cite unauthorized workers using bogus Social Security numbers as a driving force behind the mismatch files. The incorrect worker files mushroomed during the 1990s, as migrants poured into the United States. Almost half of the inaccurate reports come from such industries as agriculture, construction and restaurants, which rely on unauthorized labor.
Particularly disturbing is that possibly millions of the Social Security numbers belong to other people. In Utah, after Social Security provided data for one criminal probe, investigators discovered that Social Security numbers of 2,000 children were being used by other people.
“What do you think we’d find if we had the ability to analyze all of their information?” said Kirk Torgensen, Utah’s chief deputy attorney general. “It would be invaluable. How short-sighted is it that the government doesn’t follow this trail?”
Getting a job is easy for illegal immigrants. To work lawfully in the United States, individuals must have valid Social Security numbers or authorization from the Department of Homeland Security. But the law doesn’t require companies to verify that workers give them names and numbers that match Social Security records.
So most companies don’t check. that some companies must be aware of the illegal status of their employees. Auditors found: About 8,900 of the nation’s 6 million employers accounted for 30 percent of inaccurate reports. Some companies repeatedly have reporting problems, including 40 that made the worst 100 list repeatedly over a span of eight years. One company submitted 33,000 errant earnings reports in a single year.
Some of the country’s most successful prosecutions have come with help from Social Security, which will open specific files once a criminal investigation is under way. The records played an important role in last week’s nationwide sting at IFCO, but investigators didn’t learn about the company’s immigrant workforce until a year after Social Security began sending notices asking the company and employees about the errors.
“The only reason we got onto this case was because of a lucky tip,” said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Dean Boyd. “We could have launched this case a year earlier. It sure would make our jobs easier and save the taxpayers a lot of money if we had access to their information.”

Leave a Reply