Immigration tax: a response

Letter to the editor:

I found Annalisa Harder’s article “Alumnus proposes Goshen immigration tax,” which appeared in the Jan. 29 issue of the Record, to be unclear on several points and inaccurate on several others. After identifying these and my concerns with this tax, I offer some other suggestions for improving the lives of the many undocumented immigrants living among us.

The first unclear aspect in the article was the interchangeable use of “illegal immigrants” (used once) and “immigrant(s)” (used 12 times). What is at issue is that some immigrants have documents recognized by the federal government for employment and some (of various ethnicities) do not. Some of the latter (undocumented immigrants) have obtained documents illegally to work.

The tax that Miguel Cruz and Charles Mumaw are proposing is for the latter – immigrants without documents to work. There is no need for immigrants who have work documents to sign up for another tax. Their taxes are withheld from paychecks (or filed quarterly, if self-employed) like they are for me. Since all Latino residents, even citizens, are often treated as if they were here illegally, it’s important to use clear language.

Particular problems have arisen in Elkhart County with undocumented workers. There are two separate problems that were conflated into one in this article.

The first problem has been that some undocumented workers have claimed too many allowances on their W-4 forms. The article described “illegal immigrants lying about their number of dependents when they file their W-2s.” This is inaccurate because W-2s (Wage and Tax Statement forms) are what employers give employees at the end of a calendar year to report their taxes withheld.

It is the W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate) form on which an employee lists allowances, according to the IRS instructions. For example, on the W-4 you enter the number of “dependents … you will claim on your tax return.” If you claim more allowances on this form than you are entitled to, your employer will withhold less tax and you will have the option of not paying it at a later time.

The second problem is that, if you don’t file tax forms, the federal and state governments will lose out and so will the county, though in slightly different ways. The federal and state governments will lose out because you didn’t have any taxes withheld and you didn’t file federal and state tax forms with correct payment for taxes owed.

The county loses out because monies are disbursed to counties from state coffers according to the number of state tax forms filed by individuals from the county. As Mayor Allan Kauffman said in an article in the Goshen News Jan. 24, “Anyone who doesn’t file a tax return, we don’t get their local option income tax back.”

The Record article read: “Instigating this tax would allow immigrants to take advantage of services they are already supporting. ‘[Immigrants] are paying taxes, but they can’t use any of the services,’ said Cruz.” Since the tax Cruz is proposing is for undocumented immigrants, whether they are supporting governmental services depends on whether or not they are paying taxes.

Undocumented immigrants who don’t claim too many allowances on the W-4 do pay into the system without drawing benefits (like Social Security), apart from education for their children. Cruz was offering a way for undocumented immigrants to “be registered at the local level,” receive official identification and then qualify for services.

I have the following concerns about a registration number and tax for undocumented immigrants:

  • Being discovered to have false documents, often involving forgery, will continue to be the prelude to deportation (the local jail reports all foreign-born people arrested to ICE, which then puts immigration holds on undocumented people). Why would any undocumented person register as such so they could pay a tax? They can currently sign up for a Tax Identification Number in order to file taxes, but the risk of revealing their undocumented status already keeps undocumented people from doing this.
  • Several bills are already before the Indiana state legislature cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers and on people with false documents. I doubt the Assembly would agree to circumvent Immigration and Customs Enforcement regulations and legitimize people being here with a recognized tax. With fewer and fewer jobs available locally, this would seem to be a very hard sell. I see political pressure in this direction, however well-intended,  as futile.

If trying to tax undocumented immigrants is not a good idea, what will fix the current mess the United States is in – with 12 million undocumented immigrants living (and some working) here because they can’t support themselves in Mexico?

  • Stop raiding work places to identify and deport undocumented people, splitting up their families. Only 350,000 were deported last year, three percent of the 12 million. And a number of them will find a way back because they are desperate.
  • Provide a way for undocumented immigrants who have in the United States to earn legal status and eventually citizenship.
  • Maintain and increase the number of family-based visas.
  • Create a fair guest worker visa as jobs are available, with worker’s rights, decent wages and the opportunity to apply for permanent status and eventually citizenship.
  • Speed up the processing of immigration papers, so that applicants are not in limbo for years at a time.
  • Pass the Dream Act, to enable immigrant children who have lived here long enough to earn resident status through college education or military service.
  • Renegotiate the Central America Free Trade Agreement to provide economic stability and opportunity in immigrants’ home countries – industries and wealthy people need to be taxed to build up the country’s infrastructure.
  • Get rid of U.S. farm subsidies that make our agricultural products cheaper for others to import than their farmers can grow at home.
  • Require a decent minimum wage, workplace safety regulations and job creation of signatories, so that people can stay in their home countries and earn a decent living.

Anne Meyer Byler is a Goshen College reference and instruction librarian.

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