On 25 May 2006, the U.S. Senate, by a 62-36 bipartisan vote, passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (CIRA) — a controversial bill which proponents touted as providing comprehensive and humane immigration reform, and which opponents criticized as unfairly rewarding "illegal aliens" by allowing them to obtain legal status.
On 18 May 2006, while the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act was still under consideration, Senator John Ensign of Nevada proposed an amendment to the bill to "ensure that persons who receive an adjustment of status under [the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act] are not able to receive Social Security benefits as a result of unlawful activity." The crux of Senator Ensign's argument was that immigrants who had entered and worked in the U.S. "illegally" and paid into the Social Security system using fraudulently-obtained Social Security numbers should not be allowed to receive credit for those payments:
[Illegal immigrants] paid into the system simply because that was the price to pay to get a job in the United States. The immigrant knew they were using an illegal Social Security number but without regards of the impact of the victim. I have reviewed case after case related to identity theft and Social Security fraud. These cases are occurring all over the United States. In every case, in every State, where someone's Social Security number was stolen by an illegal immigrant to use to find work, the victim's credit history is destroyed. Sometimes their work history is too. Earlier I talked about Caleb, a gentleman in Nevada. The illegal immigrant who used Caleb's Social Security number was not trying to harm that person but he did. Caleb applied for unemployment but couldn't get it because the agency said he was working when, in fact, he wasn't. He lives in Reno. They said he was working in Las Vegas. It was an illegal immigrant using his Social Security number in Las Vegas.
I never said this amendment is going to prevent identity theft. What I have said is that it is not right for somebody to steal somebody else's identity — granted for the noble purpose of getting a job — and reward the theft by giving work credit that counts towards Social Security. We should consider the victims who are forced to deal with the terrible consequences of the crime.
The Senate vote on this amendment is what is reproduced in this email:
THESE ARE THE SENATORS WHO VOTED TO GIVE ILLEGAL ALIENS SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS. REGARDLESS OF POLITICAL PARTY, THESE POLITICIANS NEED TO BE DEFEATED IN 2006, 2008 OR 2010 WHENEVER THEY COME UP FOR OFFICE. SEND THIS TO ANYONE YOU KNOW IN ANY OF THE STATES LISTED. THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF THE UNITED STATES NEED TO KNOW THIS INFORMATION. THAT IS UNLESS THEY DO NOT MIND SHARING THEIR SOCIAL SECURITY WITH FOREIGN WORKERS WHEN AMERICAN CITIZENS ARE BEING LEFT OUT.
Grouped by Home State:
Alaska: Stevens (R-AK), Yea
Arizona: McCain (R-AZ), Yea
Arkansas: Lincoln (D-AR), Yea Pryor (D-AR), Yea
California: Boxer (D-CA), Yea Feinstein (D-CA), Yea
Colorado: Salazar (D-CO), Yea
Connecticut: Dodd (D-CT), Yea Lieberman (D-CT), Yea
Delaware: Biden (D-DE), Yea Carper (D-DE), Yea
Florida: Martinez (R-FL), Yea
Hawaii: Akaka (D-HI), Yea Inouye (D-HI), Yea
Illinois: Durbin (D-IL), Yea Obama (D-IL), Yea
Indiana: Bayh (D-IN), Yea Lugar (R-IN), Yea
Iowa: Harkin (D-IA), Yea
Kansas: Brownback (R-KS), Yea
Louisiana: Landrieu (D-LA), Yea
Maryland: Mikulski (D-MD), Yea Sarbanes (D-MD), Yea
Massachusetts: Kennedy (D-MA), Yea Kerry (D-MA), Yea
Michigan: Levin (D-MI), Yea Stabenow (D-MI), Yea
Montana: Baucus (D-MT), Yea
Nebraska: Hagel (R-NE), Yea
Nevada: Reid (D-NV), Yea
New Jersey: Lautenberg (D-NJ), Yea Menendez (D-NJ), Yea
New Mexico: Bingaman (D-NM), Yea
New York: Clinton (D-NY), Yea Schumer (D-NY), Yea
North Dakota: Dorgan (D-ND), Yea
Ohio: DeWine (R-OH), Yea Voinovich (R-OH), Yea
Oregon: Wyden (D-OR), Yea
Pennsylvania: Specter (R-PA), Yea
Rhode Island: Chafee (R-RI), Yea Reed (D-RI), Yea
South Carolina: Graham (R-SC), Yea
South Dakota: Johnson (D-SD), Yea
Vermont: Jeffords (I-VT), Yea Leahy (D-VT), Yea
Washington: Cantwell (D-WA), Yea Murray (D-WA), Yea
West Virginia: Rockefeller (D-WV), Not Voting
Wisconsin: Feingold (D-WI), Yea Kohl (D-WI), Yea
Although the message's text accurately reflects the roll call vote that took place, the accuracy of its characterization of those senators who voted "Yea" as voting "to give 'illegal aliens' Social Security benefits" is not accurate for a number of reasons:
- The subject of the proposed amendment was not about giving (or denying) Social Security benefits to "illegal aliens;" it was about whether a select group of formerly "illegal" workers (i.e., those who might obtain legal immigration status if the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 were enacted) should be able to receive credit for payments they made into the Social Security system using phony Social Security numbers (i.e., numbers that were invalid or had been assigned to others). Such persons would still be eligible to collect Social Security benefits in the future even if this amendment were defeated; they just wouldn't receive credit for payments they had already made into the system.
- The senators named didn't vote against Senator Ensign's amendment; they voted (by a 50-49 margin) in favor of a Motion to Table. (That is, they passed a motion to remove the amendment from consideration before the Senate voted on it.)
- It was the potential passage of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act that created the situation Senator Ensign's amendment sought to prevent in the first place (i.e., allowing formerly "illegal" workers to receive credit for earlier Social Security payments), so the senators who ultimately voted in favor of the immigration reform act might logically be considered at least as responsible for the outcome as those who voted to table the Ensign amendment.
In a nutshell, the amendment referenced above wasn't about "giving 'illegal aliens' Social Security benefits"; it was about whether formerly "illegal aliens" (who had since become legal) should be credited for monies they themselves had paid into the Social Security fund while they were in the U.S. "illegally." The senators listed above did not vote in favor of this proposition; they voted to withdraw the amendment from consideration.