Immigration Control:

A New Role for the Social Security Card

HRD-88-4: Published: Mar 16, 1988. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 1988.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO: (1) explored ways to reduce the potential for fraud in obtaining and using social security number (SSN) cards; and (2) identified technological alternatives for making the card more resistant to counterfeiting.

GAO found that: (1) the SSN application process was vulnerable to fraud, since there were thousands of different documents applicants could use to support their applications; (2) support documents, such as birth certificates, were easy to obtain, counterfeit, or alter, with no practical way for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify them; and (3) employers were untrained in document verification. GAO also found that: (1) designating the SSN card as the only acceptable document aliens could use for employment eligibility verification under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) would simplify employment eligibility; (2) Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) certification of alien employment eligibility could improve SSA procedures; (3) although magnetic strips, integrated circuitry, and lasers would make SSN cards more resistant to counterfeiting, they would not preclude persons from using fraudulent documents to obtain valid cards; (4) the introduction of color copiers has posed a significant threat to SSN card integrity; and (5) although IRCA provided that general revenues finance changes to the SSN card, the Social Security Trust Funds paid for the replacement of 1.6 million cards at a cost of $11.6 million.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: There is no evidence of any congressional action on this issue. GAO does not expect any at this point.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider whether the cost of replacing SSN cards as a result of IRCA should be paid from either appropriated funds or fees charged to those requesting the cards, rather than from the Social Security Trust Funds.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA has completed a document verification study.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to experiment with increased document verification to determine the extent of fraud and the benefits of additional verification.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: INS does not plan to pursue the recommendation due to staffing constraints.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General should develop a plan for the enumeration of aliens that would provide that INS certify the employment eligibility of aliens applying for an SSN card, or establish an alternative method of employment eligibility verification that would be as effective.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: INS does not plan to pursue the recommendation due to staffing constraints.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General should develop a plan for the enumeration of aliens that would provide that INS certify the employment eligibility of aliens applying for an SSN card, or establish an alternative method of employment eligibility verification that would be as effective.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Administration requested and Congress appropriated funds for annotating SSN cards.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General should develop a plan for annotating SSN cards for aliens who are authorized to work in this country on a temporary basis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Administration requested and Congress appropriated funds for annotating SSN cards.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General should develop a plan for annotating SSN cards for aliens who are authorized to work in this country on a temporary basis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In early 1988, SSA modified new and replacement SSN cards so that the image "void" would appear on copies made of the original.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to secure new and replacement SSN cards against the threat posed by color copiers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Inspector General has completed the subject report.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should study the cards confiscated from illegal aliens to identify the extent and methods employed to obtain and use SSN cards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The HHS Inspector General has completed the subject report.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should study the cards confiscated from illegal aliens to identify the extent and methods employed to obtain and use SSN cards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  9. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Justice decided to reduce the number of employment eligibility documents; however, there is no evidence at this point that this study will be undertaken.

    Recommendation: If the Attorney General concludes that the number of employment eligibility documents under IRCA should be reduced, he and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should study the potential impact of such a change on requests for replacement SSN cards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  10. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Justice decided to reduce the number of employment eligibility documents; however, there is no evidence at this point that this study will be undertaken.

    Recommendation: If the Attorney General concludes that the number of employment eligibility documents under IRCA should be reduced, he and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should study the potential impact of such a change on requests for replacement SSN cards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Justice has started to implement a plan to reduce the number of employment eligibility documents. However, neither Justice or SSA want to make the SSN card the only authorized employment eligibility document.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should consider reducing the number of employment eligibility documents and specifically consider making the SSN card the only authorized employment eligibility document.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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