2004 pact al­lows ben­e­fits for il­le­gals

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Stephen Di­nan

An agree­ment the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion reached with Mex­ico on So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits would al­low il­le­gal aliens granted amnesty in the fu­ture to claim credit for the time they worked il­le­gally.

The deal was reached in 2004 but never re­leased pub­licly be­cause it hasn’t been sub­mit­ted to Congress. The TREA Se­nior Cit­i­zens League, a So­cial Se­cu­rity ad­vo­cacy group, re­cently ob­tained the doc­u­ment through a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, and said it con­firms the group’s worst fears.

The doc­u­ment is a jum­ble of def­i­ni­tions and le­gal lan­guage, but a spokesman for the group said what’s im­por­tant is what’s not in the text: It does noth­ing to pre­vent un­doc­u­mented aliens who later get le­gal sta­tus from re­ceiv­ing ben­e­fits for the time they worked il­le­gally. And that comes as the So-

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cial Se­cu­rity sys­tem’s fi­nances are about to be put un­der greater strain by the re­tire­ment of baby boomers.

“If you open up the trust fund to peo­ple who have been work­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally for many years, that­bankrupt­cy­date­canon­ly­come sooner,” spokesman Brad Phillips said. “Peo­ple on the other side of this, peo­ple who have been ar­gu­ing that of course il­le­gal aliens can’t get their hands on So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits, now can’t make that ar­gu­ment eas­ily any­more.”

But Mark Las­siter, a spokesman for the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the agree­ment doesn’t change U.S. law. The law states that those who do not have au­tho­riza­tion to work will not get ben­e­fits un­der a to­tal­iza­tion agree­ment.

“To get So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits, you do have to be legally in the United States. This agree­ment does not ad­dress in any way im­mi­gra­tion, im­mi­gra­tion laws or over­ride cur­rent law,” he said, adding that a 2004 law, the So­cial Se­cu­rity Pro­tec­tion Act, pre­vents il­le­gal aliens from get­ting ben­e­fits.

But the se­niors group said the 2004 law also states that if those aliens later get le­gal sta­tus — through an amnesty or some sort of le­gal­iza­tion plan such as the one Pres­i­dent Bush and the Se­nate tried to en­act last year — they would be able to col­lect the ben­e­fits based on their time as il­le­gal work­ers.

The deal has not taken ef­fect be­cause Mr. Bush has not signed it or sub­mit­ted it to Congress. Once he does, Congress would have 60 days to vote against it or it au­to­mat­i­cally would be­come law.

Congress has never de­feated any of the 21 other to­tal­iza­tion agree­ments the United States has reached. Most of those have been with Euro­pean na­tions, with the fi­nan­cial ef­fects known to be smaller.

Some law­mak­ers say Mr. Bush has not sub­mit­ted the agree­ment be­cause it would get caught up in the de­bate over So­cial Se­cu­rity’s poor fis­cal health, which could doom the mea­sure.

To­tal­iza­tion agree­ments end dou­ble tax­a­tion, so work­ers have to pay only into one coun­try’s sys­tem, and al­low a worker who didn’t have enough cred­its in any one coun­try to qual­ify for ben­e­fits to pool his or her cred­its. In the United States, it takes 10 years, or 40 quar­ters, to qual­ify.

Mr. Las­siter said that’s not to say Mex­i­can work­ers who spent less time, such as the six quar­ters min­i­mum needed to pool cred­its, would get ben­e­fits equal to some­one who had worked his or her full life here.

As for the doc­u­ment’s sta­tus, he said the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion hasn’t sub­mit­ted it to the State De­part­ment be­cause of­fi­cials are still wait­ing for the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment to help reach a side agree­ment on how to treat il­le­gal aliens. The United States sent a diplo­matic note try­ing to clar­ify the sit­u­a­tion but has not heard back from the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment, he said.

“At this point, there’s no ac­tion that is planned or that will be taken un­til that process goes through,” Mr. Las­siter said.

Rafael Laveaga, a spokesman for the Mex­i­can Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, said the agree­ment has to be rat­i­fied by the Mex­i­can Congress as well, but be­yond that he had no de­tails to of­fer.

The is­sue has been con­tentious for sev­eral years.

A 2003 re­port by the Gen­eral Ac­count­ing Of­fice, Congress’ in­ves­tiga­tive branch, said the agree­ment with Mex­ico was shoddy work that didn’t in­ves­ti­gate the re­li­a­bil­ity of Mex­ico’s data, or take into ac­count the mil­lions of il­le­gal aliens who would be­come el­i­gi­ble.

The GAO also dis­puted the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s es­ti­mate that the agree­ment would cost $105 mil­lion a year for the first five years, say­ing the costs could be much higher given the un­cer­tainty of who could ben­e­fit.

Rod­ney Lamkey, Jr. / The Wash­ing­ton Times

The Jef­fer­son Me­mo­rial is seen through cherry blos­soms tree branches dur­ing mild tem­per­a­tures in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. on Jan. 4.

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