It's tax time! The season when even those who truly believe in a strong social safety net start thinking how those kooky Libertarians might actually make some sense. Or, if you got a refund, a flutter of benevolent gratitude for that most generous of government institutions, the Department of the Treasury.
The Times has a piece today about how more and more undocumented immigrants are filing their tax returns. The number of returns that had an individual taxpayer number issued by the IRS to people who don't have social security numbers, known as an ITIN, went up 30% from 2004 to 2005, and new ITINs were issued to more people in 2006 than ever before. In 2005, people submitting their returns with an ITIN paid a total of $5 billion in taxes.
Which explains why the IRS doesn't ask about immigration status, and has created an identification system for people who are living and working illegally in the country--they pay. The pragmatic Commissioner of the IRS Mark Everson said, "We want your money whether you are here legally or not and whether you earned it legally or not."
If only the rest of our government took such a practical approach to how to deal with people who immigrate here to work, right? Commissioner Everson probably would love to see drugs legalized too, since it would increase his agency's revenue by at least one hundred million percent.
Despite the growing tax dollars that undocumented workers pay, people who think immigrants come here to rob convenience stores and go on welfare still assume the worst. Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies says, "First of all, almost all the people filing tax returns are doing it because they’re going to get tax refunds. It’s a bad thing, because they’re not obeying the law — they’re deciding which laws they prefer to obey."
This doesn't seem to be true, at least not in New York. A nonprofit in Jackson Heights that helps low-income people prepare their tax returns, Food Change, says that two-thirds of the 1,700 ITIN returns they've done this year end up owing more taxes, not getting refunds. The average income of these returns was $9,400--further demonstrating that undocumented workers aren't exactly living the high life in this city.
One immigrant in the article, Elsa Forero, is from Colombia. She works as a baby sitter and gets paid in cash. Now I don't know about you, but I wonder how many teenagers in wealthy suburbs are declaring their babysitting income to the IRS. Elsa had to pay the federal government $579, and expected a state tax credit of $115. "I want to pay taxes because I live in this country and I like to follow the rules," she said.
Paying taxes will probably be a step toward legalization in whatever immigration reform bill finally gets passed in Congress. Maybe the IRS should act like any other industry and start running some PSAs and making campaign contributions to key Senators if they want to keep seeing their revenues rise.