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 Way. In 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.