Update: The Salvation Army/Immigration Issue

Ken AshfordGodstuff, Immigration and XenophobiaLeave a Comment

A couple of commenters have pointed out, in response to an earlier post, that the Salvation Army does not check the immigration status of donees.  Rather, the Salvation Army is "simply trying to ensure people are not signing up for toys at more than one location" by checking Social Security numbers.  They point to this article, which I reprint in its entirety:

The Salvation Army's Houston Command is defending its practice of requiring a Social Security number for families who register for gifts through an Angel Tree program. They said its policy prevents duplication of services.

The Austin command said it achieves that goal by asking for photo ID cards, instead of social security numbers.

A spokesman said the charity is not concerned with any applicants legal status. They are concerned with donation levels. People have given less food and thrift store items this holiday season.

The Salvation Army is hoping donations of things including blankets pick up before the next cold snap.

Well, it certainly makes sense to parse out the toys so that people don't abuse the charitable giving.  But I have two questions:

(1)  In the original article I cited, it plainly reads:

The Salvation Army also verifies the immigration status of anyone who comes to their shelter.

That certainly indicates that someone at the Salvation Army told this to the news organization specifically.  Were they wrong?  Did the news organization make it up?

(2)  Secondly, intentions aside, the "checking the Social Security number" rationale still has the effect of denying toys to illegal immigrants, does it not?  What happens, for example, if an illegal immigrant, or even one here on a legitimate visa, comes to the Salvation Army to receive a donated toy for their child?  They have no SSN; are they turned away?

UPDATE — Well, I think this puts the matter to rest.  Released today from the Greater Houston Salvation Army:

Today, The Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command announced it will no longer require Social Security numbers as part of the registration process for its Christmas assistance program known as the Angel Tree program. The Angel Tree is the nonprofit organization’s annual holiday gift giving program that provides new unwrapped gifts to disadvantaged children and seniors in the Greater Houston region.

“It was never our intention to offend anyone with our registration requirement to provide a Social Security number, or to give the impression that we were discriminating against those individuals and families who do not have a Social Security number,” says Major Chris Flanagan, Area Commander for The Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command. “The Salvation Army has been in this community for over 120 years now, serving the needs of all, and we will continue to do so. Immigration status is not a detractor for providing assistance.”

Prior to this announcement, The Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command required proof of income, one form of identification and a Social Security number for at least one member of a family in order to register for the Angel Tree program. With the single Social Security number, The Salvation Army registered all members of the same household regardless of whether they had a Social Security number or not.

In most cases, individuals and families who were not able to provide a Social Security number were still provided assistance by The Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command. Valid forms of identification include school registration, Medicaid cards, Consular cards, food stamps cards, and birth certificates.

The Social Security numbers provided were never used to verify legal status.

Instead, Social Security numbers were entered into a Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command database that searched for matches on the same number. If a match was found, families were informed they had already registered for the Angel Tree program, that they would receive the help they were asking for, but that they could not register more than once for the same program.

So while they maintain no wrongdoing, they are changing their practices to avoid the appearance of impropriety.  Fair enough.

This raises the issue — a common business practice — of using one's SSN for identification purposes not related to the administration of social security.  But that's a topic (perhaps) for another day.