Learning to Love Identity Theft


The Department of Homeland Security says it is rounding up and deporting undocumented meatpackers in order to fight "identity theft." Over at The American Prospect, David Bacon takes a hard look at the theft threat and says: "Take mine!"

ICE rhetoric would have you believe these deportees had been planning to apply for credit cards and charge expensive stereos or trips to the spa. The reality is that these meatpacking laborers had done what millions of people in this country do every year. They gave a Social Security number to their employer that either didn't belong to them, or that didn't exist. And they did it for a simple reason: to get a job in one of the dirtiest, hardest, most dangerous workplaces in America. Mostly, these borrowed numbers probably belong to other immigrants who've managed to get green cards. But regardless of who they are, the real owners of the Social Security numbers will benefit, not suffer.

Swift paid thousands of extra dollars into their Social Security accounts. The undocumented immigrants using the numbers will never be able to collect a dime in retirement pay for all their years of work on the killing floor. If anyone was cheated here, they were. But when ICE agents are calling the victims criminals in order to make their immigration raid sound like an action on behalf of upright citizens.

Something very backward is going on when anti-immigration officials are trading in dated identity scares. A litmus test for "seriousness" in the immigration debate is support for an employer verification system, a massive federal database that employers will be required to consult before making hires. And one of the chief arguments against creating that database is that it will surely spur a massive increase in actual identity theft, encouraging middlemen to sell, and undocumented workers to buy, more sophisticated false documentation.