The Social Security Administration has recently made revisions to their no-match letter in hopes of overturning a previous injunction that prevents them from using it. The injunction was instated because civil rights groups had protested the letter, which informs employers that an employee’s given social security number does not match their name. The new letter informs employers that a non-matching social security number can mean that the employee is an undocumented immigrant. This revision includes an explanation of this information, which they hope will be satisfactory to repeal the injunction.
If the SSA’s main goal in linking social security numbers to immigration status is to help the National Security Administration crack down on undocumented workers, it is a poor way to achieve that goal. Errors in the SSA’s own system can lead to unfair harassment of employees as a result of the letters. In addition, employers have little incentive to pay attention to the letters.
When the SSA’s system shows that a person’s name and social security number do not match, there could be other explanations aside from immigration status. Glitches in the system, paperwork errors or identity theft can all result in a no-match letter. To insinuate that anybody with a non-matching social security number is an undocumented immigrant misleads employers. Because it is illegal to employ undocumented immigrants, employees who mistakenly receive no-match letters could be unfairly fired as a result.
Releasing these no-match letters with the information about immigration status could also lead to an increase in workplace tensions. The possibilities it introduces for prejudice in hiring and firing are troubling. It may make employers wary of hiring immigrants or people they think are immigrants, legal or not. Even while our country is struggling to change its immigration policy, it must continue its tradition of justice and protection of civil rights. The possibility for prejudice should be carefully examined by the SSA and the courts before they reach a decision.
The large margin of error is also a serious ethical problem if the SSA plans to encourage employers to take action against potential illegal workers based on no-match letters. When employers receive these letters, there is no reason to approach employees because they can not be sure that the employee did not receive the letter in error. In addition, broaching such a sensitive topic with employees is never easy, and as an added deterrent, employers rarely want to fire employees, undocumented or not.
Changing the language of the letter to include an explanation in no way addresses the potential threats to civil rights this letter introduces. It does not fix the potential for letters to be sent in error. Even if letters are sent regarding undocumented workers, there is little motivation for employers to follow up on the letters. Considering the potential problems this version of the letter holds, the SSA should go back to the drawing board.