May 9, 2008 Social Security requirement meant to keep funds from illegal immigrants penalizing others
By Ken McLaughlin, McClatchy-Tribune
SAN JOSE, CALIF. — When Congress passed an economic-stimulus package giving hefty rebates to most taxpayers, it tried to make sure that illegal immigrants didn't get any of the cash.
But in doing so lawmakers inadvertently penalized hundreds of thousands of legal U.S. residents — and tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed overseas — simply because their spouses lack a Social Security number.
"Imagine an American soldier in Iraq whose foreign-born wife is waiting for an immigration petition to be approved and doesn't have a Social Security card. Now the couple can't even get a rebate," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. "That is really stupid."
Others in the predicament include about a million legal residents whose spouses are still overseas because of long immigration queues and hundreds of thousands of H-1B work visa holders in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
The scope of the problem is only now becoming clear as the government begins mailing out rebate checks. The first checks were electronically deposited in bank accounts last week.
Because illegal immigrants don't have Social Security numbers and instead routinely use "tax identification numbers," Congress banned rebates for taxpayers who use the IRS-issued numbers.
If a married couple files jointly and one spouse doesn't have a Social Security number, the couple won't get the $1,200 checks that other couples will receive. They're also ineligible for the $300 rebate per child.
Many Armed Forces members stationed overseas have foreign spouses who can't get Social Security numbers.
William Luong, stationed at a U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, said his fellow seamen resent that they've landed in the same category as illegal immigrants.
"They understand the reason they're getting the shaft," said Luong, 21, who is from the Los Angeles area. "but a lot are frustrated or angry about it."
More than 288,000 troops are stationed overseas, according to the Pentagon — not counting those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many live in places — Korea, Japan and Germany — where extended stays often result in marriages to locals.
After the House passed the economic-stimulus legislation, anti-illegal immigration groups lobbied the Senate to add the Social Security requirement, fearing that illegal immigrants would get checks.
The Federation for American Immigrant Reform — whose members went on radio talk shows to bash the House version of the stimulus bill — has no apologies.
"No law was ever written that doesn't find someone falling through the cracks," said Ira Mehlman, a FAIR spokesman, who said he hoped government officials will come up with some way to help service members.