For nearly 40 years, Mexican citizen Andres Avelino Anduaga used an assumed identity to live and work, and commit crimes, in the United States. Anduaga used a birth certificate belonging to a US citizen to apply for a California driver’s license and a Social Security card in 1980. Using that identity, Anduaga applied for Social Security disability benefits in 1989, amassing nearly $250,000 in benefits over the course of his lifetime.
Because of his Social Security disability benefits, Anduaga was also able to acquire $100,000 in benefits from Medi-Cal, the California state system that pays for medical expenses for people with low income. And even after Anduaga’s Social Security benefits were cut off in 2016 he was still able to apply for and receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits until he was arrested in November 2017.
What makes this story even worse? Anduaga was deported twice, in 1994 and 2000, under the name “Jose Reyes,” but was able to return to the United States and travel freely between Mexico and the US using a passport he had received under the same assumed identity he had used to defraud the Social Security disability system.
This example highlights a systemic problem that afflicts government at all levels and that makes it difficult both to tackle the immigration issue and to address the billions of taxpayer dollars that are lost to fraud every year. Just think about all the ways that Anduaga was able to play the system for 37 years.
He received a driver’s license, Social Security card, and US passport. He received state medical and food benefits. He was deported twice and still returned and traveled freely between Mexico and the US. That’s at least seven instances, and possibly many more, at which the government could have and should have figured out that he was not a citizen, should not have been eligible for benefits, and should have been punished for what he had already done. But the government failed at every step, and so for 37 years Anduaga got away with it.
Now he has been sentenced to 37 months in prison for his theft of government services and for being in the US illegally, which will cost the taxpayers another $100,000 or so, plus the cost of his prosecution. We can assume that he will be deported after he finishes his sentence, but who’s to say he won’t come back again? The system failed before, so why is there any reason to believe that it won’t fail again the next time? With a government that is so large and bloated, how many more Anduagas exist out there siphoning off government benefits? Something needs to be fixed, and soon, to prevent cases like this from happening again.