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By Ken McLaughlin
Mercury News

Article Launched: 05/08/2008 01:30:36 AM PDT

Link to the original article – http://origin.mercurynews.com/news/ci_9191044

When Congress passed an economic-stimulus package giving hefty rebates to most taxpayers, it tried to make sure that illegal immigrants didn’t get any of the cash.

But in doing so lawmakers inadvertently penalized at least a million legal U.S. residents – and tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed overseas – simply because their spouses lack a Social Security number.

“Imagine an American soldier in Iraq whose foreign-born wife is waiting for an immigration petition to be approved and doesn’t have a Social Security card. Now the couple can’t even get a rebate,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose. “That is really stupid.”

Others in the predicament include legal residents whose spouses are still overseas because of long immigration queues and hundreds of thousands of H-1B work visa holders in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

The scope of the problem is only now becoming clear as the government begins sending out rebate checks. The first checks were electronically deposited in bank accounts last week.

Because illegal immigrants don’t have Social Security numbers and instead routinely use tax identification numbers, Congress banned rebates for taxpayers who use the IRS-issued numbers.

If a married couple files jointly and one spouse doesn’t have a Social Security number, the couple won’t get the $1,200 check that other couples will receive. They’re also ineligible for the $300 rebate per child.

“If the government collects taxes from us, we should be able to get rebates given to other legal residents; it should be a level playing field,” said Parveen Kumar, an H-1B visa holder who lives in Sunnyvale.

Kumar moved to Silicon Valley from India with his wife three years ago. He now works as an engineer at Intelliswift Software in Fremont. But his wife, Anu, is on an H-4 “dependency visa” that doesn’t allow her to work.

After he found out about the rebate law, he went to the Mountain View office of the Social Security Administration and asked if he could get a number for his wife. He was told no.

John Johnston, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration, confirmed on Wednesday that the agency’s policy is not to issue Social Security cards simply for the purpose of issuing tax rebates.

Spouses of H-1B workers

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there are now between 600,000 and 800,000 H-1B visa holders in the United States. Exactly how many are married to spouses ineligible to work in this country is unclear.