Steffanie Rivers

*I got an email the other day with a petition and instructions attached telling me to sign it and pass it on. The petition eventually is to be emailed to the White House to let President Barack Obama know that he should veto any bill Congress might pass allowing illegal immigrants access to social security benefits. According to the email, the Senate recently has passed the bill and the House is expected to do the same in a few days.

Everybody knows someone who is forced to live on the little amount of income social security provides. And the age at which Americans qualify to receive those benefits continues to rise. So the thought of having to share it with illegal immigrants who have no legal claim to it justifiably should have people up in arms signing petitions. There’s just one problem: There is no such bill before congress and thus nothing for Obama to veto.

Despite the lack of trust that I have in our country’s collective political brain trust, better known as Congress, I didn’t think they actually would put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard to draft such a meritless bill. It seemed out of character even for them. That, plus and the fact that I went out on a limb last week and complimented Congress for passing laws against banks to protect credit card users, made me want to verify the information before I signed the petition and passed it on.

Based on my personal knowledge of how social security benefits work – W2 employees pay a social security tax throughout their working lives and at a pre-determined age they receive a monthly stipend from that fund based on their contributions to it – it seemed improbable, even impossible, that illegal immigrants could be voted into eligibility. But stranger things have happened. So I did my due diligence, and here’s what I found out:

Illegal immigrants who have been granted amnesty, and who have done documented work in the United States and paid social security taxes are eligible to receive social security benefits. Amnesty, which is a general pardon of political crimes for a
period of time, can be granted by the U.S. government. In 2006 the U.S. Senate voted on an amendment to change the immigration laws to allow nearly 20 million illegal immigrants the amnesty protection that would have made them eligible for
future social security benefits. The amendment was defeated by one vote.

Part of the furor behind the 2006 vote is because some illegal immigrants who illegally acquired social security numbers to get jobs have by default paid into social security benefits. Those payments by workers who have either used fake identification, forged documents or incorrect social security numbers, amount to $6 billion annually. The money is said to be kept in a separate account. And that’s why some illegal immigrants say they should have access to it. As it stands now they do not.

Although illegal immigrants don’t have access to social security benefits, they are allowed access to medical care, crisis counseling, food and limited housing in certain cases, if for no other reason than for our humane responsibility.  Still overzealous political pundants have used this information to emotionally agitate people to do unnecessary things such as collecting signatures for needless petitions. It’s no different from Tea Party advocates who created chaos surrounding Obama’s national healthcare bill.

While I commend the grassroots effort it takes to create a petition and coordinate its circulation to collect hundreds of signatures, rest assured that for now our social security benefits are not threatened by illegal immigrants. The real threat is from U.S. lawmakers who have mismanaged the funds in part because they don’t have to depend on that money to make ends meet the same as millions of other Americans do.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living inthe Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking
engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video
version of her journal at youtube.com/steffanierivers.