Illegal aliens are not entitled to social security benefits because they are not eligible to work in the United States. Illegal aliens are also ineligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), although legal aliens who have not paid into the system may be eligible. Social Security only provides benefits to workers who have contributed to the social security fund through social security taxes (FICA payroll deductions). An immigrant must have proper identification and work authorization from the Department of Homeland Security to be employed in the U.S. and to contribute to social security. Yet, because many illegal aliens get jobs in the U.S. with counterfeit or stolen social security cards, many pay into the system.
There are no laws that allow illegal aliens to receive social security benefits if they haven't paid into the system. However, current law does allow a former illegal alien who has received legal authorization to work and a valid social security number to collect on contributions made when he or she was illegal.
In 2006, an amendment to the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act was proposed to prevent former illegal aliens from receiving social security credit for their illegal work. The amendment was defeated by one vote and the legislation was passed. In press coverage, some reports accused members of Congress who voted against the amendment of supporting social security for illegal aliens. These senators stated that they supported paying benefits to former illegal aliens, who would only be eligible if and when they became legal.
This remains a highly controversial issue in immigration reform. Currently, the Social Security Administration collects billions of dollars through FICA contributions that are not credited to a specific worker. The social security number for these accounts may have been stolen, expired, or made up so the worker could get the job. The question is whether illegal aliens should be entitled to these contributions once they become legal or whether they forfeit the contributions since their work was illegal.
The Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act was proposed in 2007 to make it more difficult for illegal aliens to use fake social security numbers and more restrictive for employers to hire them.
If passed, the act will allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish and maintain a database noting a worker's citizenship and work eligibility. Prior to offering employment, employers will be required to verify a worker's identity and work authorization through DHS. If an employer fails to comply, DHS may impose a penalty. The act will also add physical elements to social security cards to make them more difficult to copy or counterfeit.