Trump Is Resuming An Anti-Fraud Policy Obama Halted — And It Could Have A Big Impact On Identifying Illegal Workers

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
  • The Trump administration will start notifying employers when their employees’ tax paperwork does not match Social Security Administration records in 2019. 
  • The so-called “no-match” letters are issued when a name and social security number combination provided by an employee does not match the agency’s records for that number.
  • The longtime practice, which was suspended by the Obama administration in 2012, can be used to identify when an illegal alien has stolen someone’s social security number and used it as proof of work authorization.

The Trump administration will resume notifying U.S. businesses when information submitted on employee tax forms doesn’t match up with social security records, a longtime practice halted by the Obama administration.

Beginning in 2019, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will send “no-match” letters to employers when a name and social security number combination provided by an employee does not match the agency’s records for that number.

Employers who fail to correct the records could be subject to IRS tax penalties, Bloomberg Law reported Tuesday.

The resumption of no-match letters also has significant implications for identifying illegal immigrants who have stolen a U.S. citizen’s social security number and used it to prove work authorization. As many as three-quarters of the 7 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. workforce possess a social security number that belongs to somebody else, according to SSA estimates.

No-match letters can be considered preliminary evidence that a worker is an illegal immigrant who appropriated a social security number to gain employment, according to a September report from the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). Using government records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, IRLI found 39 million instances of social security number mismatches between 2012 and 2016.

Many of those instances are repeat mismatch reports involving the same number, and others were caused by name changes, clerical errors or non-alien criminals stealing identities for other reasons, according to IRLI executive director Dale Wilcox. But “we know a large portion of that number certainly is stolen identities” on the part of illegal aliens, Wilcox told Bloomberg Law. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: New USCIS Office Investigating Thousands Who Got Citizenship Through Identity Fraud)

The SSA has sent some form of mismatch notification to companies or individual employees for decades, but the Obama administration quietly suspended the practice in 2012, citing a lack of resources. At the time of the suspension, no-match letters were being sent directly to employees, not employers.

“The termination of no-match letters has resulted in a thriving black market where illegal aliens can obtain the Social Security numbers of U.S. citizens in order to gain employment,” IRLI, the legal wing of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said a news release on Sept. 11. “The Social Security numbers of young children are especially sought by illegal aliens, as this theft is likely to go undetected for years.”

The Obama administration halted no-match letters eight days after it began accepting applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in August 2012. Due to the timing, some immigration policy analysts concluded the move was made to reassure DACA applicants they wouldn’t be prosecuted for identity theft.

“Since awareness that they had been ‘flagged’ as identity thieves might well have dissuaded them from disclosing their whereabouts in a DACA application, suspension of the SSA program was a logical add-on to the other actions taken by the administration to prevent fear of identity-theft prosecution from depressing DACA applications,” Temple University law professor Jan Ting wrote in March.

Historically, the primary aim of no-match letters has been to inform companies and employees that their social security contributions were not being credited because of mismatches. In tax year 2016, there was $1.5 trillion in the SSA’s earnings suspense file, where the agency holds uncredited wages it can’t definitively match to its database of social security numbers.

More than $409 billion of that total was added from 2012 to 2016, the period when the Obama administration stopped sending no-match letters, according to IRLI.

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