The prospect of millions of Mexicans receiving United States Social Security

checks is moving closer to reality.

The Gannett News Service reports U.S. and Mexican officials are

discussing a “totalization” agreement that would transfer hundreds of millions

of dollars in payments south of the border. The plan would allow documented

and undocumented immigrants to return home but still collect U.S. benefits.


reported the idea to merge both countries’ Social Security systems was

pushed late last year by Mexican President Vincente Fox as payback from

President George W. Bush for failing to secure major new immigration

reforms beneficial to Mexico City.

“When the legalization talks began going nowhere, the Mexicans began

focusing on this,” Maria Blanco, national senior counsel for the Mexican

American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the Washington Post.

Excerpts from a U.S. Social Security Administration memo dated

December 2002 said the agreement “is expected to move forward at an

accelerated pace.”

The pact is the latest and largest attempt by Washington and Mexico City

to ensure that people from one country working in another aren’t taxed twice

for Social Security benefits. In the first year alone, the agreement is expected

to trigger 37,000 claims from Mexicans working in the U.S. legally who paid

Social Security taxes but haven’t been able to claim their checks, said the

memo, prepared by Ted Girdner, the Social Security Administration’s assistant

associate commissioner for international operations.

Supporters say the proposal would improve the daily lives of Mexican

citizens, many of whom are still trapped in poverty a decade after the North

American Free Trade Agreement promised prosperity to the nation’s 103.4

million people.

“Let’s be honest, there are millions of Mexican immigrants contributing to

the Social Security system and the U.S. economy,” Katherine Culliton, an

attorney with the Washington, D.C., office of the Mexican American Legal

Defense and Education Fund, told Gannett. “It’s only fair they get back a

benefit they deserve that will keep them from dying in poverty.”

Critics, as well as some on the Bush administration economic team,

worry that adding more beneficiaries would burden an already ailing system,

just as American baby boomers begin to retire.

Currently, around 94,000 beneficiaries living abroad have been brought

into the U.S. system under the auspices of about 20 international treaties

designed to help Americans sent abroad by their employers signed since

1977. The accords are mostly with European countries, but also include

Canada and South Korea.

Of the $408 billion distributed in Social Security benefits in 2001, according

to Gannett, the federal government paid $173 million to about 89,000

foreigners living abroad.

Opponents contend the number of Mexican beneficiaries added to the fold

would dwarf the total numbers from the 20 other countries. One estimate puts

the number of Mexicans coming into the system at around 164,000 in the first

five years.

Social Security Administration officials estimate about 50,000 Mexicans

would collect $78 million in the first year of a U.S.-Mexican agreement. By

2050, the number is predicted to swell to 300,000 Mexicans collecting $650

million in benefits a year.

But that number doesn’t include the potentially eligible, undocumented

Mexican immigrants – numbering about 5 million, according to federal

estimates – a recent General Accounting Office report pointed out.

Accounting for illegals, the agreement could cost U.S. taxpayers $750

million within five years of implementation.

Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration

Studies, says if Mexicans receive the $8,100 in benefits that Mexican-born

retirees in the U.S. currently get, the total expenditure for the program will

easily surpass $1 billion annually.

Beyond the cost, Republican lawmakers worry the proposal will fuel further illegal immigration.

“Talk about an incentive for illegal immigration,” Gannett quotes Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, as saying. “How many more would break the law to come to this country if promised U.S. government paychecks for life?”

Any “totalization” agreement ultimately reached must be approved by Congress.

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