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HOUSTON – The Salvation Army defended its practice on Tuesday of requiring at least one social security number for each family registering their children to receive Christmas gifts.

Some had seen the practice as a way to check immigration status but the charity said it’s a way to cut down on fraud.

“Our work is not to verify immigration status,” Juan Alanis, a spokesman for the Salvation Army in the Houston area, said Tuesday. “That’s really not something that we’re concerned with.”

The controversy came up after the Houston Chronicle reported that the Salvation Army and another charity, Outreach Program Inc., were requiring Social Security numbers or documents that indicate immigration status.

The Salvation Army in the Houston area asks for at least a child or parent’s social security number so a family can register children to receive toys. It’s a way to deter families from going to various Salvation Army centers and registering at each one, Alanis said.

A number is only cross checked with other Salvation Army registrations. It is not verified and the charity does not request to see the card, he said.

To register for gifts, the charity also asks for identification and proof of income. It accepts consular identification cards, school records and birth certificates as forms of ID, Alanis said.

Nationally, the charity does not have a policy requiring the people it aids to present documents to verify U.S. citizenship.

The other charity, Outreach Program, distributes toys collected by the Houston Fire Department. It’s founder and executive director Lorugene Young did not return calls to The Associated Press. She told the Chronicle the point isn’t to punish the children but to ensure that their parents are either citizens, legal immigrants or working to become legal residents.

“It’s not our desire to turn anyone down,” she said. “Those kids are not responsible if they are here illegally. It is the parents’ responsibility.”