UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION EXTENSION ACT OF 2008--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - November 19, 2008)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. ALLARD. Mr. President, first, I wish to thank the Senator from New Hampshire who just spoke for his leadership in the Congress, and it has been a pleasure serving with him. I also will be retiring, but one of the people I will miss is John Sununu from New Hampshire, because I think he has contributed a lot to the process.
I wish to also take a moment to bring to your attention and the attention of my colleagues an issue I have worked hard to address in legislation I proposed this Congress. The issue is identity theft. I was hopeful Congress would pass legislation that addresses the problem of unauthorized foreign workers stealing Social Security numbers and then using the numbers to obtain employment and then, eventually, accruing Social Security benefits.
Almost 2 years ago, I introduced S. 699. It is legislation that facilitated the sharing of existing information among government agencies in instances where the infrastructure, if shared, could expose cases of identity fraud. Unfortunately, my bill stalled in committee and has not since received further action. Congress's failure to enact such legislation is disappointing, because it has left in place existing law which is ineffectual in deterring unauthorized foreign workers from stealing the identity of citizens--that is Americans--and nationals. Individuals continue to engage in this activity in violation of our criminal laws as well as our immigration laws while also defrauding Social Security and citizens.
Identity theft continues to plague our country at an alarming rate.
If there was ever any doubt, let last week's discovery--in Weld County, Colorado--of 1,300 stolen Social Security numbers by illegal immigrants serve as a reminder of the pervasiveness of this problem. A single additional case of an unauthorized worker stealing a U.S. citizen's identity is one case too many, for it is well within the Federal Government's ability to stop this rampant problem. If my legislation had been enacted, the 1,300 illegal aliens using fraudulent Social Security numbers and resulting in more than $2.6 million in stolen tax dollars would have caught the attention of law enforcement much sooner.
Last week, after an intense and lengthy investigation by the Weld County Sheriff s Office, the Greeley Police Department, and District Attorney Ken Buck's office, a series of arrests began in a case that is far-reaching and has national implications.
What is upsetting is that Congress has had foresight about the devastating effects of identity theft. We have also been educated, notably by Secretary Chertoff, of the susceptibility for citizens' identities to be stolen by aliens that are in the United States illegally and without authorization to work. I introduced legislation that recognizes the compelling need to modify the law in order to allow our Government both to enforce immigration laws and also protect the victims of identity theft. Under the current law, by the time identity theft is discovered, the damage has already been done. For instance, an 84-year-old Grand Junction woman was deemed ineligible for Federal housing assistance because her Social Security number was being used at a variety of jobs in Denver, making her income too high to qualify. Several individuals had been using her I.D. number, and each individual's salary was then being reported to Social Security. As a result, her income was recorded much higher than what she was receiving. If the discrepancy had been discovered earlier, before she had applied for her housing grants, there would have been an opportunity to address the disparity before she became a victim twice over.
What is incredible is that the Federal Government, specifically the Internal Revenue Service, is enabling this. Under current policy, the IRS is under no obligation to share information with other agencies upon the discovery of a Social Security number being used with multiple names or in the case where it is discovered that an individual has more than one person reporting earnings for him or her during a single tax year.
I propose to allow the Commissioner of Social Security to share information with the Secretary of Homeland Security, where such information is likely to assist in discovering identity theft, Social Security misuse or violations of immigration law. It is worth noting Secretary Chertoff supports my proposal, believing it is a practical solution that overcomes the current limitations on information sharing.
Despite the force of these arguments supporting legislation that tears down the wall that prevents the sharing of existing information among Government agencies, Congress has so far rejected Secretary Chertoff's call for a legislative solution.
The 1,300 cases of suspected stolen identities exposed in Weld County alone were brought to light after authorities discovered that an illegal immigrant accused of stealing and using a man's Social Security number to get jobs, loans, and other services, had also been filing and receiving tax returns from the Federal Government. It did not take long for investigators to come to the realization that this particular illegal immigrant's suspected use of stolen identity was not an isolated case. As it turns out, these 1,300 other illegal immigrants filed tax returns using the same tax preparer based in Greeley. This is one tax preparer handling 1,300 fraudulent returns. Take a moment and consider the 1,300 illegal aliens' tax returns, which yielded $2.6 million in tax refunds, were handled by a single tax preparer; now consider the number of tax preparers nationwide and the exorbitant amount of tax dollars--likely in the billions--distributed among illegal aliens using fraudulent Social Security numbers. The way our system works, the tax preparer is relieved of liability, absent reckless misrepresentation or a finding of exceptional negligence.
With whom should the liability lie? The obvious answer is the illegal alien guilty of stealing someone else's identity. But what happens to the helpless victim of the identity theft? Shouldn't our law protect the person who has had their identity compromised, and shouldn't our Federal agencies be required to communicate information about an individual's compromised identity before the individual is robbed of opportunities such as taking out a student loan, purchasing a home, or purchasing tools or equipment with a small business loan? Shouldn't we do all that we can to prevent law-abiding citizens falling victim to identity theft?
Occurrences of identity theft perpetrated by illegal immigrants have risen and will continue to rise as better systems are developed for verifying employment. Illegal immigrants will continue to assume the names and Government-issued ID numbers of American citizens in order to thwart detection at workplaces, get driver's licenses and obtain credit. Once a person takes a job in the U.S., one of the first things his employer will likely ask for is his Social Security number. The integrity of the immigration system depends on the genuineness of our efforts to protect citizens from immigrant-related identity fraud. Identity theft prevention and immigration enforcement will be greatly enhanced by legislation that permits the sharing of social security data among agencies.
The Weld County Tax I.D. case is just the tip of the iceberg. If more than 1,300 illegal immigrants can receive more than $2.6 million in tax refunds using stolen Social Security numbers in a community of 100,000 people, how many other cases exist throughout the country? It adds insult to injury that a legislative solution is easily within reach of Congress.
I know we have a lot on our plate this week, but I would ask the Senate to act to close this loophole.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.