A Lesson to be Learned from the IRS: Legal Status and Working are Two Separate Issues

A Lesson to be Learned from the IRS: Legal Status and Working are Two Separate Issues

LatinaLista — When it comes to getting the government's fair (or unfair) share of hard-earned dollars, the Internal Revenue Service or IRS is more widely feared than the Department of Homeland Security — especially among undocumented immigrants.
How can this be, you wonder?

Elsa Forero, an immigrant from Colombia, gets tax aid from John Quing of Food Change, a nonprofit agency.
(Source: NYTimes)

Well, it's a little known revelation that is bolstered each tax season when the IRS documents those income tax returns filed with ITIN numbers or Individual Tax Identification Numbers.
It's the only way undocumented immigrants can file taxes.
And, yes, they are filing.

On July 26, 2006, Mark Everson, commissioner of the IRS, appeared before the House Committee on Ways and Means to testify on the impact of the immigration issue on tax administration.

We at the IRS support and appreciate the jobs being done at SSA (Social Security Administration) in maintaining and protecting the Social Security Trust Funds and at DHS (Department of Homeland Security) in enforcing our immigration laws, but our function is tax administration.
Our job is to make sure that everyone who earns income within our borders pays the proper amount of taxes, whether that income is legally obtained and whether the individual is working here legally If someone is working without authorization in this country, he/she is not absolved of tax liability. Instead of an SSN to file a tax return, that person frequently uses an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

Everson went to say that his job is to bring taxpayers into the system — regardless of their legal status.
And even though the undocumented immigrants must be afraid that they're stepping into a federal trap, they have shown up in the past and are still showing up to pay their taxes to show that they are not the unconscientious lawbreakers some would paint them to be.
They know that any application to stay in this country, under whatever immigration reform bill is enacted in the future, will have a component that says them must show proof of having paid taxes.
For a government who is quick to label these people criminals and as undesirables and round them up as if they are terrorists, it seems pretty unfair and underhanded to demand they pay taxes as a stipulation for applying for citizenship.
According to Everson, in 2005, over 2.5 million tax returns were filed with at least one person listed on the return with an ITIN number. By July of 2006, 1.6 million new applications for ITIN numbers were issues — that was a 25% increase from the year before.
In compliance with IRS guidelines since 2004, those applying for an ITIN had to attach a tax return to establish a return filing requirement.
Everson also noted that for the tax periods 1996 to 2003, the income tax liability for ITIN filers totaled almost $50 billion.
At the time of this post, IRS media offices were closed and so a check to see if there exists any updated information on the number of ITIN returns filed in 2007 and/or the number of applications for ITINs so far for 2008 was unavailable.
Yet, for a country with critics loud and wide harking on the drain that undocumented immigrants put on this economy and the national deficit standing at $9,252,544,949,017.31, it doesn't make sense to ignore the voluntary (and for undocumented immigrants, it is voluntary whether or not they risk coming forward to pay) effort on their part to do what is right and pay into a system that would rather criminalize and demonize them than recognize the fact that the foremost reason they are here is to work.
(Update 2/16/08 — The IRS resported to Latina Lista that there was a 266,461 increase in the number of ITIN application in 2007 from 2006. Yet as a representative from the IRS pointed out, applications don't translate into returns. Figures were not available for 2006 or 2007 for the number of returns filed using ITIN numbers.

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