The administration has granted about 541,000 Social Security numbers to illegal immigrants under President Obama’s original 2012 deportation amnesty for Dreamers, officials told Congress in a letter made public Wednesday.
That means almost all of the illegal immigrants approved for the amnesty are being granted work permits and Social Security numbers, opening the door to government benefits ranging from tax credits to driver’s licenses.
Social Security officials, in the April 10 letter to Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, said they don’t keep track of how many illegal immigrants have been denied numbers, and defended their process for granting the ones they have doled out.
“We will not issue an SSN if an individual has insufficient or unacceptable documentation,” Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin said in the letter. “In addition, we will not issue an SSN if [Homeland Security] is unable to verify the individual’s immigration/work authorization status.”
Social Security numbers are considered one of the gatekeepers for being able to live and work in the U.S., and some experts have said granting them to illegal immigrants makes it easier for them to access rights reserved only for citizens, such as voting.
But the Obama administration has ruled that the illegal immigrants it has approved for its temporary deportation amnesty, known as “deferred action,” are here legally for as long as the program exists, and so they are entitled to work permits and Social Security numbers.
The IRS has acknowledged that getting a Social Security number entitles illegal immigrants to go back and claim refunds under the Earned Income Tax Credit for time they worked illegally — even if they didn’t file returns or pay taxes for those years.
Republican critics of the president’s immigration policy say he’s helping illegal immigrants at the expense of American workers, whose taxes pay for Social Security and other government benefits.
“This grant transfers jobs, wealth and benefits from marginalized U.S. workers directly to illegal workers,” said Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Mr. Sessions. “One of the most dramatic costs of amnesty — whether legislative or imposed through executive diktat — is the opening of our federal Trust Funds to large numbers of lower-income illegal immigrants.”
Mr. Obama’s latest amnesty, announced in November 2014, has been halted by a federal court, so no Social Security numbers have been granted under that policy.
But the first amnesty, announced in June 2012 and covering young adult illegal immigrants known as Dreamers, remains in effect, and had approved nearly 639,000 persons as of the end of 2014.
All those applying for the amnesty are required to apply for a work permit as well, and almost all are approved for that document, which they can then use to obtain a Social Security number.
About 541,000 numbers had been granted as of the end of 2014, meaning about 85 percent of all Dreamers had been given the coveted numbers. Still others could be in the pipeline, making the actual approval rate somewhat higher.
A federal appeals court earlier this month tossed a challenge to the 2012 amnesty, ruling that neither immigration agents nor Mississippi, who had both sued to stop the policy, had standing to bring a lawsuit.
That appeals court will hold an initial oral argument session Friday on the 2014 amnesty, which could grant tentative legal status, work permits and Social Security numbers to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants.