GOP tries to pit immigrants against unemployed

Senate Democrats were unable to get cloture Jan. 14 on a bill to extend federal unemployment benefits for people who have run out of eligibility without having been able to find work (the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, S 1845).

Cloture (closing of debate) for this bill would have meant an up-down vote on the bill in the Senate, and failure to get it means the bill can be filibustered. Cloture requires a three-fifths vote, 60 votes, but the motion got only 55 yeas (52 Democrats, 1 Republican and 2 Independents) as opposed to 45 nays (44 Republicans and one Democrat).  This leaves at least 1.3 million long-term unemployed in the lurch.  However, the effort will continue after the Martin Luther King holiday and beyond, if necessary.

One maneuver that some Republicans tried, and will try again, has raised especial indignation. This was a proposal by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., to play off the interests of the unemployed against those of undocumented immigrants and their families. This is not exactly a new tactic for Republicans and the right, but in Ayotte’s proposal there is a new twist: to deny the Child Tax Credit on federal income taxes to people who don’t have Social Security numbers.

Undocumented immigrants cannot be issued Social Security numbers, but in the interests of maximizing tax revenues, the Internal Revenue Service allows them to obtain and use another number, the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, to put on their 1040s and other tax documents. Undocumented immigrants like to do this because it shows that they are doing their best to pay their federal income taxes, a factor in their favor if they have, at some point, a chance of legalizing their status in the country. It also helps to document the fact that undocumented workers do indeed pay taxes. If eventually an immigration reform bill permitting mass legalization of the undocumented is passed by Congress and signed by the president, records of having done their best to pay their federal income taxes could be a major factor in determining who gets legalized and who not.

Undocumented workers are also enabled thereby to pay billions into the Social Security and Medicare systems, even though they are not eligible for benefits from them.  

Ayotte’s proposal would specifically prevent people who file their taxes using the ITIN from claiming the Child Tax Credit.  This would severely impact, to the tune of an estimated $1,800 per year, families in which one or both breadwinners are undocumented (the average household income for undocumented immigrants is currently estimated at about $21,000). And Ayotte and her colleagues know perfectly well that there are a great many families, especially but not exclusively in the Latino, Asian and African immigrant communities, which are “mixed status.” Affected would be the household budgets of the estimated 4 to 5 million U.S. citizen children whose family breadwinners are undocumented.

The Ayotte proposal, which has come up in various forms before, was presented in the service of the GOP idea that if long-term unemployment payments are extended, they must be balanced off by cuts in other budgetary items. Raising taxes on the upper-income strata is of course not acceptable to these lawmakers, any more than is the idea of cutting the bloated military budget or subsidies to massive agribusiness corporations.

Photo: AFL-CIO Facebook page



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.