There are almost not enough fingers on the hands of the world's population to count the $520 billion accumulated in the US Social Security Administration's Earnings Suspense File.
This enormous amount of money is what has been saved by undocumented immigrants, who may never see one cent in return.
Every year, the ESF account grows by more than $7 billion in Social Security tax revenue and $1.5 billion in Medicare taxes. But the foreign workers are not entitled to any benefits: no public pension in retirement, no Medicare.
In February, Patrick P. O'Carroll Jr., inspector general of the Social Security Administration, told a House of Representatives subcommittee that the ESF is the best indicator of unauthorized people working in the country.
According to a 2005 investigation by the New York Times, undocumented workers' contributions to the ESF accounted for about 10 percent of the Social Security surplus the year before. The money has been helping the Social Security agency's cash flow for regular and medical payments.
Not only have undocumented immigrants paid income taxes with their fictitious Social Security numbers, they have filed reports as well with the IRS individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). The IRS number, created in 1996, is very popular among the immigrants, who label it as W-7 or seguro verde (green social security card). They nicknamed the certificate for the number of the application form and color of the document.
Data indicated that in 2005, 1.4 million contributors filed tax returns using ITINs -- 40 percent more than in 2004 -- and $300 million was paid to the IRS in 2001 through seguros verdes. Mexican nationals made up more than 53 percent of ITIN users and citizens of only 16 other countries made up 36 percent of applicants.
The $520 billion in the ESF is eight times more than the initial yearly amount requested by President Bush for the Iraq occupation. But it's easy to ignore the defenseless and not give them any rights.
In her April 26 announcement of new legislative measures to protect Social Security numbers, Rep. Sue Myrick inadvertently admits undocumented workers pay their dues to Uncle Sam: "During 2002, 9 million people paid taxes with mismatched names and social security numbers." She also inadvertently recognizes immigrants' willingness to work hard: "It is estimated that 4.5 to 7.2 million Social Security cards are used by illegal aliens to obtain employment."
I do not condone the use of fake IDs and Social Security cards by the undocumented labor force, especially if it tarnishes the credit and finances of citizens. But the culprit is the current absurd immigration system.
I hope Mrs. Myrick will one day be able to see in all the zeros of the Social Security system the billions of dollars contributed by immigrants.
Rafael Prieto Zartha is the editor of the Charlotte-based Spanish-language newspaper Mi Gente. To comment on this story, go to News at www.charlotte.creativeloafing.com.