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Amendments that Matter: The Path To Citizenship—Taxes, Fees and Penalties

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If you think the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Gang of 8 bill has been intense so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. As the SJC moves into Titles II and III of the bill—which cover everything from E-Verify to detention policy to family immigration to agricultural workers, not to mention the path to citizenship itself—we’re highlighting some of the major areas we expect to see addressed, and the amendments we’re particularly hopeful about or upset by within each one. That’s why we’ve started this “Amendments that Matter” blog series. Below is a guest post by Ellen Sittenfeld Battistelli, a policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center, writing about taxes, fees, and penalties and the immigration bill.

Also view our list of key amendments filed in the Senate Judiciary Committee to S. 744

For immigration reform to succeed, the path to citizenship must be affordable and realistic.  It must not be weighed down with conditions, complexities and costs that effectively preclude a viable opportunity to integrate into our nation’s fabric.

Under S. 744, most immigrants will face a waiting period of 13 years or more; a criminal background check; work requirements; documentation demands; English language and citizenship exams; and an employment verification of eligibility.  And they will be required to pay significant fees and penalties which could amount to more than a month of their gross yearly income.  Immigrants who can satisfy these conditions will be denied access to safety net services including basic health care and nutrition assistance – even after they secure a lawful status.

Put together, these financial and procedural demands add up to significant hurdles.  Many of the 11 million aspiring citizens work in low-wage jobs.  More than 30 percent of these families have annual incomes of less than $20,000.  In fact, a third of the children and a fifth of the adults — including many who work full time — live in poverty.  This is the reality that these individuals and families face and this is the reality that effective immigration reform policy must consider.

Good amendments

  • Hirono 12 allows the entire $1,000 RPI penalty to be paid in installments prior to receiving an extension of RPI status.  This is a change to S. 744 which requires that $500 be paid with the application for RPI status, but allows the remaining $500 of the penalty to be paid in installments before the extension of RPI status may be granted.

Horrible amendments

  • Hatch 22 requires documentation of payment of all income and employment taxes owed before filing an application for RPI status, application for extension of RPI status, and application for adjustment to LPR status. Establishing an RPI application requirement for back taxes owed from entry into the U.S. rather than assessed taxes is unworkable for employers and employees, an untenable and costly burden for the IRS, and a barrier to successful immigration reform.
  • Hatch 24 denies lawfully present immigrants the Social Security benefits that they earned through their work and payroll taxes from the period when they were unauthorized.
  • Sessions 30 requires a Social Security number to be eligible for the Child Tax Credit.  This would deny eligibility for the CTC to workers who file their taxes with an ITIN.  This amendment would harm millions of children by denying their families the needed support.
  • Sessions 31 denies the EITC to any non-citizen who is not a lawful permanent resident.   This includes refugees, asylees, survivors of crime who have cooperated with law enforcement to prosecute the perpetrators, and many other lawfully present immigrants, including those who obtain RPI or blue card status.  In addition to being a harsh and unjustified punishment to taxpayers, this amendment is a disturbing change to current law.  The United States has always treated all individuals who are authorized to work and have SSNs equally for tax purposes.