Last week, on Fox News’ Your World with Neil Cavuto, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) proclaimed that Democrats are trying to prevent him from submitting an amendment that would prevent “illegals” from accessing jobless benefits. Sessions is upset that the Senate has denied his amendment to the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act requiring new unemployment benefit applicants to have their citizenship status checked using E-Verify — a controversial and error-ridden web-based employment verification system.
Sessions said, unequivocally, that undocumented immigrants are currently receiving unemployment benefits and are being “rewarded” for their “illegal behavior” by applying with their Social Security Numbers (SSN):
SESSIONS: What we want them to do is, like we’re asking businesses to do, is check with E-verify to see if the person who seeks unemployment insurance and compensation is actually lawfully in the country. That can be done, but they do not want to do that for reasons that baffle me and frankly have said that nothing is going to be voted on…
CAVUTO: So, are illegals presently getting jobless benefits, you can say that unequivocally?
SESSIONS: Yeah, uh, and they file using their Social Security Numbers and they get the benefits and if you check those numbers you would identify some of the people who shouldn’t be getting it. One of the more simple things you should do is simply not reward this illegal behavior.
To begin with, only US citizens individuals who are authorized to work are issued SSNs. Undocumented immigrants may possess stolen or fake SSNs, but if they try to apply for public benefits, the likelihood of them getting caught is very high. Phony SSNs immediately raise a red flag and stolen ones are easily identifiable in states that cross-match SSNs against the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) database and in all cases in which the theft has been reported.
Ultimately, most undocumented immigrants wouldn’t touch federal unemployment insurance with a ten foot pole. They’re in the US to work, not to collect public benefits. Chances are if they lose their job, they’ll just keep looking for another one before risking deportation and possible jail time. “It’s such a red herring — undocumented workers are too scared to apply for these kinds of benefits — they know the consequences of getting caught,” Jodi Conti of the National Employment Law Project tells Wonk Room.
Millions of US citizens are unemployed and they do qualify for and depend on unemployment benefits. However, if E-verify were instituted a 4% error rate could be devastating. In other words, for every million citizens that are unemployed, unemployment benefits for 40,000 American families could be denied or delayed due to errors in the SSA and Department of Homeland Security databases. The current number of total unemployed persons is currently at 15.1 million.