The Bush Administration is wrongly forcing government contractors to verify the legal status of their work force with the Social Security Administration.
For me, this is personal.
My mother taught me how to write my numbers. Raised in the Philippines and schooled by nuns who traced their roots back to Spain, she makes her 1s like a lot of Europeans — straight sticks with a leaf-like line coming off the top toward the left and the whole thing leaning toward the right as resting in the shade from the afternoon sun.
My 1s are my mother’s descendants, but anyone might easily mistake my 1s for 7s. And if a clerk for the Social Security Administration makes that mistake or other mistakes like that it could cost me and 13 million Americans our jobs.
The Social Security Administration’s “match list” is notoriously error prone. The agency’s own inspector general found that 13 million of the 17.8 million “no matches” were actually U.S. citizens. So the assumption that if you don’t have a match, then you’re here illegally is wrong at least 70 percent of the time! The discrepancies had occurred because of clerical errors or other innocent things, such as name changes from marriages or divorces.
The unreliability of the “match list” figured prominently in the reasoning of the U.S. District Court for Northern California, which ruled last year that the practice would harm thousands of innocent workers and employers. In another case, an appellate court in California this June ordered the company that runs the Staples Center in Los Angeles to reinstate 33 janitors it had summarily fired after receiving “no match” letters.
But this has not deterred President Bush. On June 9, he signed an executive order requiring all contractors and other companies that do business with the federal government to verify their employee’s identity in the federal Social Security database.
The Social Security Administration has better things to do. Chasing after undocumented immigrants who have Social Security taxes deducted from their incomes but don’t ever withdraw from the system because their ID numbers are false, not only wastes government’s time but actually robs us of that additional tax income.
Meanwhile, millions of U.S. citizens are also terrorized in the process by businesses looking for any excuse to abuse and fire workers.
And employers looking to evade the ruling will resort to sub-contracting more of their workforce, a practice that reliably lowers wages and benefits across the economy. In an interconnected economy, we need solutions that help all of us, rather than finger-pointing as we collectively race to the bottom.
My 1s might look funny, but why put me and 13 million Americans at risk at a time of growing economic uncertainty? Unfortunately, that’s not a typo.
Marissa Graciosa is the campaign coordinator for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a national coalition of more than 300 grassroots organizations led by the Center for Community Change. She can be reached at email@example.com.