It has become part of the litany of factoids repeated ad nauseum by the American right wing. Reactionary talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage (real name: Michael Alan Weiner) streaming to millions of gullible listeners who probably believe it by now, along with dozens of airwave lesser lights. The message gets repeated and sent unsolicited in literally billions of viral emails and online petitions. CNN's immigrant scold Lou Dobbs gets in on the lie.
Illegal aliens, more reasonably referred to as undocumented workers, routinely "game" the Social Security Administration's sprawling system to receive benefits, even if they've never paid into the system. That's the lie.
The truth isn't completely flattering, but au contraire, undocumented workers are not (and never have been) eligible to claim social security benefits. Unfortunately, most undocumented workers will use a false social security number to prove work authorization, thus paying into a benefit system they will almost certainly never be able to use. As of October 2005, the reported earnings on which these payments are based - which are tracked through the SSA's Earnings Suspense File (ESF) - totaled $520 billion. Just where that windfall ends up is anybody's guess.
But the reason the lie gets repeated over and over, is because many people prefer to believe that it's true.
These same people are not merely the sycophants of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove and other hate-spreading populists of recent decades, but often are people from every political persuasion. Anti-immigrant rhetoric has a long if shameful history in America. The Know Nothings of the mid-19th century made up stories about nuns being raped by priests and bishops and even by the Pope. Lynch mobs chasing Mexicans along the Rio Grande referred to their quarry as thieves and whores, which were popular designations for men and women, respectively. Whores might be a little off the mark; women of Mexican descent were more typically branded as seductresses of naive and vulnerable white men. Urban legends, however they might have originated in susceptible imaginations, are quite difficult to dispel.
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