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The Taxes Undocumented Immigrants Pay

Taxation Without Representation

by MATTIAS RAMOS

More than 3 million people paid their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer’s Number (in place of a Social Security Number) in 2010, totaling $1.8 billion in contributions from taxpayers who are unable to work legally.

Hidalgo’s parents got their green cards in 2010. But due to an unfair rule that disqualifies young people from a family’s permanent residency application if they turn 18 while they await the outcome, Hidalgo remains undocumented. This forced her to forego the opportunity to attend a top-tier state school, settling instead for the more affordable Polk State College. “It’s extremely frustrating,” she said. “Finding out I wasn’t able to get financial aid was heartbreaking.”

The government doesn’t give all immigrants an opportunity to adjust their status, but the taxman doesn’t discriminate. Hidalgo’s parents might have been undocumented, but they’ve also been Florida taxpayers for 21 years. In Florida, sales taxes fund the higher education system. Yet no amount of immigrant purchasing power has been enough to convince Florida legislators to allow immigrant youth to attend their public colleges as residents.

“It is a constant feeling of anxiety, having to live under this level of stress,” said Hidalgo, who belongs to the immigrant youth organization Students Working for Equal Rights.

Congress is likely to target families like the Hidalgos as it debates the 2013 budget. In December, the House of Representatives voted for a tax package that would effectively raise taxes on approximately 2 million working immigrant families like Mayra’s.

By denying them eligibility for the reimbursable Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), Congress claims to be discouraging illegal immigration. In reality, they would be punishing taxpaying immigrants and their kids.

State legislators around the nation have also claimed to defend the interests of taxpayers while promoting harsh immigration enforcement laws. Alabama’s so-called “Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act,” for example, is intended to make life so unbearable for undocumented immigrants that they choose to leave on their own. Similar laws are on the books in Utah, South Carolina, Indiana, and Georgia. Another is in the works in Mississippi.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is of two minds on this issue. The Justice Department has opted to sue states that have enacted these laws. But the Department of Homeland Security has beefed up enforcement and deported more people than ever. Even while acknowledging that the system is dysfunctional without a path to legal status for those already here, Obama has enforced the law to its fullest extent.

If immigration is the sincerest form of flattery, the nation’s politicians are showing they can’t take a compliment. But there’s something worse than a country anyone can enter to seek a better life. It’s a country where no one wants to go.

Matias Ramos is the 2011 Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

This column is distributed by Other Words.