The Social Security/Migration Fraud That, Perhaps, Never Was

By David North on October 8, 2010

It was several decades ago, I was doing some research at the southern frontier, and I was chatting with a Border Patrol Supervisor near the Rio Grande. He was relaxed and talkative, apparently between crises.

I had raised the subject of Social Security numbers and illegal aliens.

"You know, one of my buddies and I kicked around an idea about that," he said.

He and I both knew that many illegal aliens, particularly first timers, needed Social Security numbers to get work in the U.S. and did not have them. At the time an illegal, with a little finesse, could get a SSN legally from the government, but few knew that.

"My buddy and I are both going to get federal pensions ultimately, but neither of us have worked much in the private sector, so we won't get much from Social Security," is approximately what the INS officer said that day, "so we had this idea...what if we gave our Social Security numbers to the illegals we catch, and when they came back, because they always do, they used our numbers to get jobs?"

"What if we did that many times, with many illegals, and it worked some of the time, wouldn't we have terrific Social Security pensions as a result?"

I agreed that it was a stroke of genius, and he quickly told me that he and his friend had not done that.

But every few years I remember that conversation. That Border Patrolman can not have been the only one who had the idea. I will always wonder if some to many retired agents have a little larger check from Social Security than they deserve.

A few years later, in connection with another bit of research, I got my hands on a data dump of illegal aliens who had been identified by the government. I had names, dates of birth, and SSNs or the lack of them. Working on a government-funded research project, I also had been able to run those SSNs through the Social Security payroll files (a wonderfully tedious process, as I recall).

Some of the numbers belonged to the illegal aliens who had been captured; another group of numbers belonged to someone with a different name than the illegal alien (possibly including some Border Patrol types); and a very few were "impossible" or never-released numbers.

The small, third set of numbers puzzled me. The SSN is a nine-digit number; the full range would produce a billion distinct numbers, minus one. Social Security will eventually run out of numbers, but there was no such immediate problem in the 1970s.

So why weren't the illegals using impossible numbers to a greater extent? I figured at the time that most of the numbers between 000-00-0000 and 999-99-9999 had never been issued, so that laws of chance would indicate a substantial use of the unissued numbers.

I discussed that puzzle with some other researchers, and someone suggested to me that his ability, and mine, to think in terms of a number set with a billion entries and to compare that with the size of the American workforce (then as now well under 200 million), and then to subtract that number from one billion. . .well, that thought process was presumably not likely to occur to many of the illegals.

So they borrowed SSNs from friends and family, or they bought numbers from criminals who had, in turn, limited horizons and who had obtained the SSNs they sold from other people. It was just another example of the klutz factor in illegal immigration, the subject of an earlier blog.

Meanwhile the records of the Social Security system will, for generations, be cluttered up with contributions to wrong names, yet another impact of illegal immigration on America's systems.