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Totalization: Rewarding illegal immigrants with Social Security

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted March 4, 2003

What would you say if a plan is being put into place that would allow Mexicans who have been illegal immigrants to collect Social Security for the work that they did during the time they were breaking our nation's laws?

Will you be able to have a say on whether the Federal government should even consider such an outrageous notion?

Sit down and brace yourself. Because Federal officials and the Mexican government have been engaged in talks about just such a plan.

I have had many good things to say about President Bush, and I still do. However, there are some areas on which I harbor concerns about administration policy, and one of those has been the courting of Muslims by the White House. Ditto for this attempt that is being fervently promoted by the Mexican government, aided and abetted by Federal bureaucrats at State and the Social Security Administration, to mesh our Social Security system with their own retirement system. The end result may end up encouraging more illegal immigration.

"Totalization" is the name for this idea, and it would permit a Mexican worker to combine their years spent working in the United States and Mexico when applying for Social Security benefits.

There is very good reason for Americans to be concerned about "totalization" because we could end up sending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Mexico, further straining our Social Security system. We could add as many as 162,000 Mexicans to our Social Security rolls during the agreement's first five years. We already have totalization agreements with other countries. But a Social Security Administration memo predicts that "the application workloads generated by an agreement with Mexico will be much larger than those resulting from any of the 20 existing agreements."

And implementation of a totalization program may start much sooner than you would think. Late last year, it was predicted that this scheme could take effect as early as this October because `informal' negotiations about totalization were going so well.

Even more shocking, an anonymous House Republican aide, quoted in The Washington Post, worried that, if the Mexican government got its way, legal Mexican workers who had also worked illegally in the United States and used a false Social Security number would be able to claim higher Social Security benefits than that to which they are legally entitled. The rationale is that the payments made by the workers at the time they were illegal would have
been to false Social Security numbers.

Give credit to Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) for his willingness to take on by totalization by introducing the "Social Security for American Citizens Only Act." Paul is a congressman with Libertarian views whom I respect for his willingness to stand on principle even though, over the years, there have been times we have been at odds over one thing or another.

Paul argues that the enactment of totalization would mean Mexican immigrants would have little incentive to assimilate and to become American citizens.

As he put it recently, "The Federal government may actually allow someone who actually came to the United States illegally, worked less than the required number of years to qualify for Social Security, and then returned to Mexico for the rest of his working years, to collect full U.S. Social Security benefits while living in Mexico. That is an insult to the millions of Americans who pay their entire working lives into the system and now face the possibility that there may be nothing left when it is their turn to retire."

"We should protect Social Security dollars by putting an end to congressional spending raids, not threaten the system even more by essentially sending foreign aid welfare to noncitizens."

Mexico's government sees this as a way to intertwine our two countries' relationship even further. But totalization is no tree planting ceremony at the border but an agreement that, if it comes to fruition, threatens to endanger the solvency of our Social Security system and to encourage illegal

Now is the time for grassroots conservatives to sound the alarm about this plan, when pressure can still be applied to stop it. It will take time to bring Americans up to speed as to what's really going on. But the more they learn about this plan and what it means, the more they will come to dislike it and want to have it stopped.

President Bush and the GOP have no idea what the political environment will be like in 2004. But his administration's support of a measure like this one is likely to make things more difficult than they would otherwise be.

Let us hope that good old American common sense prevails on totalization.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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