Each year, illegal immigrants contribute billions of dollars to the United States’ Social Security and Medicare programs in the form of payroll taxes, despite the fact that they will likely never be able to take advantage of these retirement and healthcare benefits.
Speaking to Cox Newspapers recently, Jeannie Economos of the Farmworker Association Florida said that anti-immigrant rhetoric about undocumented workers not paying taxes is false. While acknowledging that some illegal immigrants are paid under the table, she asserted most are paid by checks, which are subject to the same payroll taxes that affect nearly all U.S. workers.
Cox cited Social Security Administration figures from 2007, which showed that an estimated $13.8 billion was garnered from illegal immigrants’ wages for Social Security and Medicare that year. In 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available, that number declined slightly but was still substantial, given that employers reported $72.8 billion in wages that could not be matched up with a valid Social Security number.
According to the news source, the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act is responsible for this windfall from undocumented workers. A stipulation of that law, which granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants, is that employers must verify workers’ eligibility by requesting a Social Security number or employment authorization document; however, the employer is not legally obligated to determine the authenticity of the number. When alerted by the SSA about false numbers, most employers simply tell the implicated worker to provide a new number, fueling demand for fake Social Security cards and U.S. green cards.
While some undocumented workers will be fortunate enough to go through the naturalization process, it’s unlikely even these immigrants will ever be able to claim the contributions they made to Social Security prior to gaining legal status, according to Cox.
If the contributions made by the illegal immigrant workforce in the United States are a subject of misunderstanding and controversy, it’s no secret that legal immigrants are vital drivers of the economy. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, immigrants currently hold 22 percent of professional jobs in Long Island, New York.