Learning to Love Identity Theft

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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.

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  1. You said meatpackers.

  2. “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”

    So you are saying all I have to do is go to some third world country, get some desparate young person capable of doing hard work, smuggle them into the country, send them to work in some meat packing plant with my SS # for the next 30 years and at the end of the 30 years, I can just turn them into immigration and collect all the extra social security they earn for me? I kind of like that idea.

  3. But regardless of who they are, the real owners of the Social Security numbers will benefit, not suffer.

    So, Mr. Bacon, why don’t you include your SSN in the article, and put your money where your mouth is? (literally)

    He neglects to consider the fact that SSN’s are used to track something besides Social Security. Ever heard of…income tax? Who do you think the IRS is going to come after when they discover that no taxes were payed on that income?

  4. Good point crimethink.

    Kerry, I need to pick up some extra work on the side, mind if I use your SS#? Also, if this is such a wonderful thing for the people involved, why don’t you start a charity for illegal immigrant workers were right thinking people like yourself give these poor people you SS#s so they can get a job. You can give yout your SS# first to show the way to the rest. Why don’t you just post it along with your mother’s maiden name and your full name right here on Reason? What harm could come?

  5. Of course, the real stupidity is that all the drama could have been spared by simply issuing SSNs to working immigrants.

  6. The most effective way to make sure that more workers in the future are properly documented in the future would be to come down hard on Swift.

    They should. Swift can lobby Washington if it thinks the current requirements are too rigorous (as I sort of do).

  7. Of course, the real stupidity is that all the drama could have been spared by simply issuing SSNs to working immigrants.

    But that would defeat the point of having a totally disposable workforce with no rights.

  8. How is Swift supposed to know if workers are properly documented? Should the government require all HR people to forgery detection school? When an SS card looks valid, what should they do?

  9. The most effective way to make sure that more workers in the future are properly documented in the future would be to come down hard on Swift.

    They should. Swift can lobby Washington if it thinks the current requirements are too rigorous (as I sort of do).

    Even better, how about prosecute any individual who patronizes a business that uses “illegal” labor or purchases a product made by undocumented workers?

    Do this, and we can really work this problem out. Until then, the average American will enjoy having it both ways (cheap fruit and a minority group they can feel good about being against).

  10. It was a running joke at the horse racing track I worked at every season when the illegals would show up with their docs and the employer would dutifully photocopy them to cover their asses and the workers would get their jobs. Still do – they just had another raid recently, and they’ll have another again next year, probably a couple, and it’ll go on and on and on just like that, forever.

    Dey took r jobz!!! HEY PUT THOSE DISHES DOWN, I WANT TO WASH THEM, AND I’M A REALLLLL ‘MERICAN!!! What? Be here at six tomorrow morning? No!

    I can’t imagine that this “identity theft” is a huge problem with income tax being unpaid. “Well, sir, we have you on this W-2 working at a meat packing plant in Cowtown, Colorado and you didn’t report this on your income taxes. You WERE working at a meatpacking plant in Colorado, were you not?”

    Wait, if they’re using these SSN’s, that kinda goes against the “they lower our wages!” argument, considering that anybody documenting their workers is probably paying them minimum wage and likely better, no?

  11. I can’t think of the last time I was asked to produce my SS card. Only the number. Good thing, too, because my SS card is a laughably pathetic piece of paper that looks like it could have been hand drawn on card stock.

  12. Who do you think the IRS is going to come after when they discover that no taxes were payed on that income?

    What makes you think no taxes were paid on their wages? Why wouldn’t there be the usual (over)withholding?

    A better question is – who gets the refund on all the taxes paid by these people.

  13. Another thought: in Libertarian Utopia, does “identity theft” exist? If I decide I’m Kerry Howley, who is the government to say otherwise?


  14. A better question is – who gets the refund on all the taxes paid by these people.

    Or all those SS benefits?

  15. methodman,

    You obviously have never dealt with the Internal “Guilty until proven innocent” Revenue Service.

    RC Dean,

    If they claim a few dependents, with a low-paying job like that, there won’t be anything withheld.

  16. Even better, how about prosecute any individual who patronizes a business that uses “illegal” labor or purchases a product made by undocumented workers?

    I suppose if the individual has notice. Otherwise it becaomes a crime that everybody is guilty of and is too hard to avoid. I think the law would be unconstitutionally void for vagueness, similar to the way some of the more aggressive local loitering laws have been shot down in court.

    Even though we often find ourselves at odds with the HnR mainstream, I really do credit HnR for forthrightly making the business case for looser immigration. this is a society-wide dialogue that should be going on between big businesses and the voting public at large. These two sides should understand that they are basically having a negotiation, and that some kind of compromise should be worked out and sold to the pols. I don’t mind seeing this dialogue going on in the private sphere, and wish that realistic dialogue (and by dialogue I mean real negotiation) on immigration issues went on other places besides HnR.

    this idea that Swift can get away with using illegal immigrants and still keep its anti-immigration customers is absurd.

    Close down Swift for 30 days and suddenly people who don’t think would start thinking and companies who don’t talk would start talking.

  17. Why not just tell Swift to move its plant to Mexico or down on the Mexican border? Why is that so hard. All of these plants import livestock from all over the country. They are only out in places like Grand Island because it is cheap. If the only way you can run this kind of business is with illegals, fine, move down on the border and do it there rather than sticking the people of Grand Island with the social costs of a huge, largly uneducated and unassimilated immigrant population.

  18. Even better, how about prosecute any individual who patronizes a business that uses “illegal” labor or purchases a product made by undocumented workers?

    For once, I’ll take the Dan T. bait.

    Is this really feasible? I mean… Chicago is full of restaurants run by immigrants of all nationalities, and I’ve got no way of guessing who’s here legally. Going to a restaurant that’s all-white wouldn’t even solve the problem, because there are plenty of illegal immigrants from Poland.

    You’ll pry my Taco Burrito House #3 tray from my cold, dead hands!

  19. Where does the Constitution say that government can require employers to function as unpaid agents of the immigration service?

  20. Where does the Constitution say that government can require employers to function as unpaid agents of the immigration service?

    Interstate commerce clause. there are a lot of things called “interstate commerce” that ain’t “interstate commerce.” Undocumented workers ain’t one of those things, Jenny-Bee.

  21. You know, it’s one thing to ignore a law at your own risk and another thing to ignore a law at somebody else’s risk. I have a hard time sympathizing with anybody who uses another person’s Social Security number.

  22. Why not just tell Swift to move its plant to Mexico or down on the Mexican border?

    Yes, because government is best when it’s telling the private sector how to do it’s job.

  23. If they are illegal they should be deported, end of story. Or are you advocating illegal activity and disrepect for the soverignty of the United States to decide who it wants to admit to its country.

  24. I suppose if the individual has notice. Otherwise it becaomes a crime that everybody is guilty of and is too hard to avoid. I think the law would be unconstitutionally void for vagueness, similar to the way some of the more aggressive local loitering laws have been shot down in court.

    It was kind of a tongue-in-cheek suggestion, of course, but I do think if customers were held responsible for purchasing “illegal” goods or services (similar to possession of stolen property, right?) we’d very quickly bring this issue to resolution. After one or two people are fined for eating at Joe’s Diner because he used an illegal dishwaster, word would get out very quickly to avoid Joe’s.

    Joe would have to quickly get rid of his illegal dishwasher, and hire somebody who works less hard for higher wages. This would cause his prices to go up, etc., etc.,

    The point being that the people who ultimately benefit from illegal immigration are consumers. So the burden should be on consumers to decide whether or not the current system is fair and sustainable.

  25. Kind of off topic here, but can someone answer me one question, and I am being serious.

    It seems to me that I core principle of libertarianism, classical liberalism, and humanist thought is that people are born with natural rights.

    How can someone who claims to be any of the things above and believe that any government should deny natural rights to a person because of where that someone was born?

  26. “The most effective way to make sure that more workers in the future are properly documented in the future would be to come down hard on Swift.”

    Actually, the most efficient way to make sure that workers are properly documented is to allow immigrant workers to be issued legal documents.

  27. “The most effective way to make sure that more workers in the future are properly documented in the future would be to come down hard on Swift.”

    Actually, the most efficient way to make sure that workers are properly documented is to allow immigrant workers to be issued legal documents.

    Exactly. That would happen in the first 100 hours of the Swift closure, Tom Tancredo be damned. It is overdue and it ain’t gonna happen if we “stay the course” on immigration policy.

  28. How can someone who claims to be any of the things above and believe that any government should deny natural rights to a person because of where that someone was born?

    Are you implying that every single person on earth has the “natural right” to move to the US and be a US citizen?

  29. People here should be fined for reading my asinine comments.

  30. Are you implying that every single person on earth has the “natural right” to move to the US and be a US citizen?

    In theory, there should be no such thing as “citizenship” because that’s a distinction by which a government grants some people certain rights but withholds them from others – usually for arbitrary reasons like which side of an imaginary line you’re born on.

  31. RC Dean,

    Yes, to some extent. So long as they are peaceful.

    I really would like a solid philisophical (not a pragmatic take) take on why some of you would disagree. I have an open mind, I am not trying to troll.

  32. It seems to me that I core principle of libertarianism, classical liberalism, and humanist thought is that people are born with natural rights. How can someone who claims to be any of the things above and believe that any government should deny natural rights to a person because of where that someone was born?

    Intellectual dishonesty. Or they define “people” to mean “people who are part of my group.”

    If they are illegal they should be deported, end of story. Or are you advocating illegal activity and disrepect for the soverignty of the United States to decide who it wants to admit to its country?

    As a citizen of the U.S. you have a duty to monitor everything the government does, and particularly to question every law it passes. If you believe there is something wrong with a law you have the obligation to question it publicly and advocate its repeal. If enough people agree with you and the government refuses to repeal the law you have the right to overthrow the government and form one that will.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

    Are you implying that every single person on earth has the “natural right” to move to the US and be a US citizen?

    I’m saying that every person has the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (among other rights) whether he is a U.S. citizen or not. Besides, most of the workers we’re talking about don’t want U.S. citizenship. They want to earn some money, then go back home.


  33. Kind of off topic here, but can someone answer me one question, and I am being serious.

    It seems to me that I core principle of libertarianism, classical liberalism, and humanist thought is that people are born with natural rights.

    How can someone who claims to be any of the things above and believe that any government should deny natural rights to a person because of where that someone was born?

    Maybe that can be argued from the point of private property, private land usage in particular.

    The concept of ‘public land’ is only possible with the acceptance of the concept of ‘governments’. With out the presence of governments public land would no logner exist, since the world is densly enough populated that any usable land would be privately owned by now. Hence there is not enough land to go around.

    Thats where governemnt comes in, you can look at public land as land jointly ownned by those giving legitimacy to the goverment. In a monarchy or dicatorship the public land is owned by the monarch/dictator, there the monarch has full power to deport if he doesnt want you on his private property.

    In a democracy, the concept is a bit more vague, but consider the citizens joint owners of the said land, and the government as the intended representative of the people has the discretion who and when can further dilute the ownership share by admitting new citizens, and also has the power to remove ‘non-owners’ from its collectively private property.

    I dunno…..does that make any sense at all?

  34. I believe Swift was participating in a pilot program with immigration, irs, etc, to confirm that the social security number provided by employees was accurate. The program found people with invalid social security numbers and that led to the raids.

    Swift has a substantial interest in not having illegal employees because the costs to them of a raid like this are substantial.

    They handle a perishable product, and livestock and trucks with livestock on them were not allowed into the plant.

    I would not be surprised if losses to swift and their livestock suppliers were in the 10s to 100s of thousand dollars.

  35. Until we have a federal biometric ID system to replace SSN cards and matched to Green Cards and Passports, I don’t see how anyone can have a rational discussion about Homeland Security, Border Security, or Immigration.

  36. TJIT: you mean Swift was cooperating with the Feds in a pilot to program to help identify illegals…and they got raided for it? That’s not going to encourage further cooperation, is it?

    I am also amused and mystified by the government playing up the “identity theft” angle. It implies that they’re a little ashamed of doing all this just to snag illegals. Less than ten percent of those grabbed were actually accused of “identity theft,” meaning the others probably had made-up numbers.

    Despite thoreau’s comment, “identity theft” implies an intent to defraud. These guys just wanted to work. Bandying about the same charge they hang on people that clean out the bank accounts of old folks isn’t just deceptive, but amounts to defamation of character. I was in Nebraska when it happened and the thuggish character of the raids didn’t go over well with the locals. I have heard that some local law enforcement refused to participate. Splendid, if true.

  37. “Do this, and we can really work this problem out. Until then, the average American will enjoy having it both ways (cheap fruit and a minority group they can feel good about being against).”

    Wow. Now I feel a bit dumb for commiserating with Dan T. over all the faux posts and heckling; but what a self important asshole, huh?

    I like having it both ways; cheap consumer goods and the satisfaction of patronizing a producer who employes Mexico’s poorest. I suppose folks like Dan won’t be happy until they “compassion” and “workers rights” these folks back into their 35 cents/hr. jobs in Mexico.

  38. Dan T. | December 15, 2006, 12:00pm | #

    In theory, there should be no such thing as “citizenship” because that’s a distinction by which a government grants some people certain rights but withholds them from others – usually for arbitrary reasons like which side of an imaginary line you’re born on.

    We are through the lookingglass, people. People are masquerading as Dan T. and posting thoughtful comments.

    Dakota,

    Your question is the source of much disagreement among libertarians.
    Some of us think the right to hire whom you please and the right to work for whomever you please supercede citizenship.
    Others are statist pricks masquerading as libertarians. ; )

  39. James,

    Yep kind of hard to believe.

    All this rhetoric about how getting tough on the employers would stop the hiring of illegal immigrants aggravates me. If the prospective employee submits valid ID the employer had better hire them or else they face sanction from the EEOC. The employer is forbidden from checking the validity of the prospective employees before he is hired. If they cooperate in programs to check validity of the ID after hiring they get this kind of result. The employers can’t legally do what lots of people think they should do.

    Tuesday’s raids capped a 10-month federal investigation into identity theft involving immigrant workers at Greeley- based Swift.

    In March, federal officials issued subpoenas for 1,500 employment records, and the company cooperated, Swift president and chief executive Sam Rovit said.

    “We offered repeatedly to make ourselves available in any way or to manage any criminal behavior and couldn’t get a meeting until September,” Rovit said. “They were absolutely unwilling to help.”

    Rovit said investigators told the company that complaints of identity theft filed with the Federal Trade Commission matched up with 170 Swift workers. Yet Tuesday’s raids, he said, disrupted the work of 7,000 employees nationwide.

    “If they did know who those 170 were, they could have gone and identified them and taken them away,” Rovit said. “We don’t see why they had to come in to do something that was this highly disruptive.”

    The company, he said, has never knowingly hired an illegal immigrant.

  40. Larry A,

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, [etc]”

    “Creator”? You must be one of those “fundies” I keep hearing about on H&R. You know, people who believe in some superpowerful being in the sky who takes care of us and relieves of of our individual responsibility. Whoever wrote that passage must have been a sap who simply believed everything his preacher told him and refused to exercise his intelligence because thinking was just too hard.

  41. Kerry, thanks for writing this up. Don’t know how I missed it.

    When an illegal uses a real SSAN it generates a paperwork problem for the owner of the SSAN but it is generally resolved without too much hassle. The SS tax withheld by the employer is not refunded to the employer nor is it credited to the legit owner of the SSAN.

    I’m not clear why, but the news coverage of the raids make it seem as though the intent of the guys at ICE (don’t you love it? Don Johnson and a cigarette boat come to mind) were trying to make Swift look bad.

    And Sammy, how do you justify closing down Swift for hiring people with legitimate SSAN’s?

    It is absurd to categorize this time honored tradition of gaining employment as identity theft. That is exactly intended to whip JQP into a frothing frenzy. I can hear my mother now.
    Those illegals are EVEN committing identity theft

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