Federal Court Halts Sending of "No-Match" Letters
By Aaron Matteo Terrazas
Migration Policy Institute
September 17, 2007
A federal judge in California temporarily halted the Social Security Administration (SSA) from mailing approximately 140,000 "no-match" letters referencing 8 million workers as part of strengthened immigration enforcement measures the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced in August.
According to the DHS regulations, which were to have been implemented as of September 14, employers would have approximately 90 days to resolve the discrepancies between names and Social Security numbers.
Where discrepancies could not be resolved, the employers could either terminate the employee or continue employment and risk sanctions from DHS. Sanctions for a first offense could include a fine of $2,200 per employee. DHS planned to outline this process in an attachment to SSA "no-match" letters.
In a lawsuit filed on August 29, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and other groups claimed the DHS rule would threaten the jobs of US citizens and legal immigrant workers due to inaccuracies in the SSA database. According to a report by the SSA inspector general, 17.8 million of the database's 435 million records contain errors that could result in a discrepancy report about a legal worker.
Judge Maxine M. Chesney of the US District Court of Northern California agreed that the plaintiffs have a valid argument. She set a hearing for October 1 and issued a restraining order prohibiting SSA from mailing the letters with the affixed DHS guidelines.
SSA then requested that the hearing be moved to September 19 because any delay in mailing the letters would cause a bureaucratic logjam and disrupt the processing of routine retirement and disability claims. On September 6, the judge denied SSA's request to advance the hearing.
SSA had already delayed the mailing of "no-match" letters due to this year's congressional debates on comprehensive immigration reform. It now expects the mailing backlog to extend into 2008.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that employers submit the Social Security numbers of employees for verification in earnings reports (also known as W-2 forms or Wage and Tax Statements). SSA processes these forms as an agent of IRS.
When a submitted Social Security number does not match an employee's name in the SSA database, SSA informs the employer of the discrepancy in a "no-match" letter. SSA began sending "no-match" letters to workers in 1979 and to employers in 1994. "No-match" letters are only sent to employers whose submitted wage and earnings reports have more than 10 discrepancies.
Although discrepancies can be the result of a clerical error or name change, among other reasons, unauthorized workers often use false or duplicate Social Security numbers when seeking employment.
In the past, employers tended to ignore "no-match" letters, but, in August, DHS announced that it would begin advising employers on how to resolve discrepancies.
DHS later conceded it has little capacity to ensure that employers comply with its regulations regarding "no-match" letters. Because wage reports are tax-return information, SSA follows Department of Treasury regulations governing disclosure of this information; Treasury regulations prohibit IRS from sharing tax information with other agencies.
USCIS Proposes Mandatory Green Card Replacement
- Read the Social Security Administration's overview of the "no-match" letter process here.
- See an example of a "no-match" letter here.
- See an example of the proposed DHS addition to SSA "no-match" letters here.
- Access the number of "no-match" letters to be mailed in each state here.
- Read the federal court order in AFL-CIO v. Chertoff temporarily halting the mailing of "no-match" letters here.
- Read the arguments presented by the plaintiffs in AFL-CIO v. Chertoff here.
- Read the arguments presented by the plaintiffs in AFL-CIO v. Cheroff requesting a preliminary injunction halting the mailing of "no-match" letters here.
- Read the text of the DHS final "no-match" rules here.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may require the replacement of green cards issued prior to August 1989. These green cards do not have expiration dates, which makes them a possible security risk. USCIS estimates that between 750,000 and 1.9 million nonexpiring green cards are currently in circulation.
In August 1989, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), whose functions have since been split between various agencies including USCIS, began issuing green cards that were valid for 10 years. The new green cards required holders to periodically update their photograph, biographic information, and biometric data, and they permitted INS to conduct background checks.
At the time, INS claimed it was not feasible to invalidate and replace all the nonexpiring green cards in circulation. USCIS has since developed that capacity.
USCIS is proposing a 120-day replacement period during which cardholders would be required to replace their cards for a fee of $370. After the 120-day period is over, USCIS would set an expiration date for green cards issued prior to 1989. While failure to replace the card would not be a deportable offense, USCIS could prosecute individuals who willfully fail to reregister.
Willfulness could be established if USCIS notifies the cardholder of the requirement through a letter, and sanctions could include a fine of up to $100 or imprisonment for up to 30 days, or both.
Policy Beat in Brief
- Read USCIS's proposed rule on the replacement of green cards without an expiration date here.
- Read more about the security features of US government documents here.
Immigration Enforcement and the Decennial Census. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will not suspend raids on unauthorized immigrants leading up to the 2010 census. The decennial census counts all US residents regardless of legal status; however, unauthorized migrants are often undercounted due to their presumed reticence to interact with government officials. In an August press statement, the Census Bureau emphasized that it is premature to comment on any law enforcement changes that will accompany the 2010 census. During the 2000 census, INS instructed investigators not to plan operations resulting in large numbers of arrests, other than standard border patrols or operations involving urgent criminal matters that might endanger public safety.
Estimates of the Unauthorized. Approximately 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants were in the United States as of March 2006 according to a recently released report from the Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS), part of DHS. The number is consistent with the Pew Hispanic Center's estimate of the unauthorized population (11.1 million in March 2005); Pew Hispanic Center predicted it would be 11.5 to 12 million by March 2006. According to OIS, 57 percent of the unauthorized were Mexicans although the shares of unauthorized from India, Brazil, and Honduras have grown dramatically since 2000. The report also found that over half of all the unauthorized lived in California, Texas, Florida, and Illinois. Georgia, Washington, and Arizona have experienced the highest growth rates since 2000.
- Read the Census Bureau's statement on law enforcement and the 2010 Census here.
Cuban Adjustment Act. Cuban citizens born outside Cuba may qualify for permanent residency in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Administrative Appeals Office of USCIS announced that individuals can establish Cuban citizenship for the purposes of adjustment if they document their birth, outside of Cuba, to a Cuban parent or can provide any of the required documents. Previously, USCIS routinely denied residency applications from children born abroad to Cuban parents who could not prove Cuban citizenship. The issue has become particularly relevant for those whose parents fled to Venezuela after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has strengthened ties between Venezuela and Cuba, many such families have sought residency in the United States. The Cuban government has previously estimated the number of Cuban exiles in Venezuela at 25,000 to 50,000. The World Bank estimates there are approximately 9,500 Cuban born in Venezuela.
- Read the DHS report here.
- Read the Pew Hispanic Center's estimates of the unauthorized population in 2005 here.
- Read more about unauthorized migration around the world here.
- Read the USCIS administrative appeals decision
- Read US State Department's Fact Sheet on the Cuban Adjustment Act here.
- Read more about Cubans in the United States here.
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