Sunday, July 29, 2012

Deportable and paying taxes in Nashville

by Rebecca Zanolini, Ed.S.

Immigrants pay taxes and are taxpayers, regardless of immigration status. Among Nashville's taxpayers are so-called DREAM Act students, manual laborers working under the table, and others who give a fake social security number to their employer but give a real taxpayer number to the IRS.  But the money is the same, and local, state, and federal governments gladly accept it.

Conflicting statistics exist regarding how much money the economy loses and gains from illegal immigration, but some common misconceptions can be dispelled - the most prominent being that residents ineligible for legal presence do not pay taxes at all. Regardless of immigration status, all American residents pay taxes through a variety of ways. Sales tax is paid with every product or service, and property taxes flow to the government out of every mortgage or rent check. Moreover, 50% or so of the undocumented workforce is on a formal payroll through his or her employer, with FICA taxes deducted automatically from their paychecks. 

Beyond sales tax, property tax, and FICA, many also choose to file federal income tax returns regardless of their immigration status or probability of a refund. A number of Middle Tennessee service providers can testify to their workload during tax season, when they assist individuals with or without immigration status in filing taxes for little or no charge. Martha Silva, Economic Integration Director for Conexión Américas, oversees that organization's 5-year-old tax services program, born out of a partnership with United WayIn 2010, Conexión filed 300 tax returns; in 2011, their clients numbered 148. 

Silva says that most individuals wish to fulfill their tax obligations and also hold on to the hope that one day their good behavior as taxpayers will be recognized in their favor. 

Filing without a social security number used to be a challenge, but given the sizable amount of individuals who were paying taxes with mismatched Social Security Numbers, the IRS created the concept of the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which enabled a cleaning up of the tax rolls and a matching of the right names to real numbers. While critics of this system point to fraudulent Child Tax Credit filings for financial gain, the IRS highlights the fact that an ITIN does not provide any benefits for the individual other than an avenue to pay taxes.

Fraud being the exception, most willingly file taxes knowing that little or no money will be refunded, and that payment of taxes provides no immigration leniency under current law. 

Author's Note: Special thanks to Martha Silva of Conexión Américas for allowing me to interview her and providing valuable information for this article.

Reviewer and contributor Rebecca Zanolini teaches Spanish at Middle Tennessee State University. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching and an Educational Specialist degree (Ed.S.) in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Culture, Cognition, and the Learning Process. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Curriculum and Instruction at Tennessee State University.  Beyond her passion for teaching the Spanish language, she is passionate about achieving social and educational equality for Tennesseans of minority and immigrant backgrounds and improving the quality of life for all people in our community. Most recently, she has served on the Equity Task Force Committee with Franklin Special School District, volunteered with FUTURO  of MTSU, and helped to lead and moderate an equality forum at MTSU known as, “We are Created E.Q.U.A.L.”  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Open letter to Ruben Navarrette in response to "'Illegal immigrant' is the uncomfortable truth"


I am the Editor of and have spent a lot of time thinking about vocabulary like “undocumented worker” and “illegal immigrant.”  The reason I am writing is to raise two points you missed in your column today about such terms.

First, it’s the overuse on the immigration beat of the term “illegal immigrant” – and any other label of a person based in their wrongdoing – that is the real misuse of language in this context.  I’ve read a lot of stories about breaking the law, and it’s the reporters writing immigration stories who much more frequently slap a label on the perpetrators and repeat that label throughout the story.  I don’t care if it’s “illegal immigrant” or “undocumented worker” or “unvisaed wayfarer;” the fact that a label of the person is going to be used at all is just not seen as much on other beats, and even when other beats do use similar labels, they’re used much more infrequently as a ratio of total word count.  I have a number of examples (I’ve been looking at this issue for a long time), but feel free to scan the news yourself to see this pattern born out.  So the question is, why is “illegal immigrant” or any similar label appropriate 10 times per story (just to throw out a number) when similar labels are apparently appropriate only once or twice per story outside the immigration context?

The second point you missed is whether violation of a law is necessarily a wrong.  I get your point about being from a law-abiding family; I identify with that sentiment.  I am a lawyer, and it is part of my job to ensure that people follow the law.  I am religious about following the speed limit on the highway.  But clandestine crossing or overstaying a visa might not always be a moral wrong.  Start with the point Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: not all violations of laws are equivalent to wrongdoing.  Could it be wrong of the U.S. to incorporate into its laws a fresh start over time – without undoing or paying for the original act - to just about every wrongdoer except the illegal immigrant?    Something that starts out as wrongdoing can, over time, be seen as nothing of the sort.  No one calls the victor in an adverse possession case a wrongdoer or former wrongdoer; the circumstances of the original trespass have been transformed – sanitized – ab initio.  I’m not sure we have to wait for comprehensive immigration reform to decide whether – in our sight – time transforms the original offense.

Thanks for considering these thoughts, and for always writing cogently and with conviction about the immigration issue.

Best regards,

John Lamb

Updated to add: Ruben Navarrette responded to my e-mail within an hour. He said he would grant me the first point and that "[i]t's worth looking at."

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