2004 pact allows benefits for illegals
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-
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.
The Jefferson Memorial is seen through cherry blossoms tree branches during mild temperatures in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 4.