Wednesday, January 30, 2008
In their bipartisan zeal to quickly cut a deal on an economic stimulus bill, GOP lawmakers overlooked something that will certainly inflame the conservative base _ illegal immigrants could receive a tax rebate check from the government.
The text of the House passed bill contains language making “non resident aliens” _ illegal immigrants _ ineligible for the tax rebates. But every year, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants use individual taxpayer identification numbers, known as ITINs, to file income tax returns with the IRS. These ID numbers are used instead of Social Security numbers. There are no exact statistics for how many illegal immigrants file tax returns, but this New York Times story from last year details the significant increase in use of ITINs. This story also lays out the issue.
Immigration advocates point out that many legal immigrants use ITINs, so it would be impossible to outlaw rebates for everyone who uses this form of ID in tax returns.
Republicans who were involved in negotiating the bipartisan economic stimulus package would like to avoid the illegal immigration debate as the $146 billion bill comes to the Senate this week. Congressional aides say the problem is that the IRS is not a law enforcement agency, so it doesn’t check immigration status when people file tax returns.
“The reality is that those who filed a tax return will be eligible” for tax rebates of $600 to $1,200, said Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.). “This [issue] has not been addressed” by the senators writing the bill.
The issue has certainly caught on in the conservative blogosphere, though, and you can bet a few conservative senators will bring this up as the stimulus bill hits the Senate floor. CNN’s Lou Dobbs will probably have a field day with the issue as well.
A spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) points out that illegal immigrants are ineligible for any rebates and are committing tax fraud if they fraudulently obtain taxpayer ID numbers to file tax returns. Republicans also issued a memo Wednesday trying to defuse any controversy over immigrants and tax rebates.
“The bill includes language similar to the provisions included in the 2001 and 2003 tax relief bills designed to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving benefits,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said. “There is no language in the measure that would enable illegal immigrants to receive a tax rebate.”
Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative organization, says the problem is not with the economic stimulus bill but with the lack of coordination between the IRS and immigration enforcement agencies.
“If the IRS was cooperating with Social Security or DHS [Homeland Security] … they would know who the illegal immigrants are who file tax returns,” Krikorian said.
According to a Senate GOP aide, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) will try to offer a “fix” to the bill in the Finance Committee markup of the legislation today. Republican aides are also worried that under certain definitions in the House bill, a resident alien who spent at least 183 days drawing income in the United States but was deported _ and still filed a tax return _ could have a rebate check sent to their home country. Ensign will try to prevent this with an amendment to the bill, according to a GOP aide.