Law-Abiding "Illegal Aliens": Paying Taxes for the Chance of Legal Immigration Status, or Not?

By LeMay, Giseli | St. Thomas Law Review, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Law-Abiding "Illegal Aliens": Paying Taxes for the Chance of Legal Immigration Status, or Not?


LeMay, Giseli, St. Thomas Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

Some risk their lives crossing the borders of Mexico for a chance of a better life opportunity in the United States. (1) Others have the privilege to enter the United Sates through the "front door." (2) Yet, once in the United States, they share a common ground: They have officially made it to the land of opportunity. (3) Now, the question is: Should they live in the shadows or become law-abiding "illegal aliens"? (4)

Although there is a general misconception that unauthorized immigrants (5) do not pay taxes and take advantage of the United States welfare system, the United States collected an estimated total of $10.6 billion in state and local taxes from unauthorized immigrants in 2010. (6) The Center for American Progress suggests that immigration reform would add $109 billion in combined government taxes over a ten-year period. (7) Moreover, immigrants' gain of legal status is likely to increase the overall Social Security trust fund to approximately $606 billion. (8) The Center for American Progress further states that immigration reform would raise enough capital to fund retirement benefits of approximately 2.4 million native-born Americans. (9)

While the government, by means of Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") regulations, requires all citizens and noncitizens, including unauthorized immigrants to file tax returns, many immigrants are hesitant to announce their presence in the United States to federal agencies. (10) Unauthorized immigrants fear their employers might find out they use false social security numbers ("SSNs"), or that the federal government would find their whereabouts in the United States. (11) However, it is important to note the IRS has records of each tax return filed with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (12) ("ITIN")--meaning that the taxpayer does not have a SSN, which places the IRS on notice the person filing the taxes is likely to be unauthorized to work. (13)

The tension between the IRS regulations requiring unauthorized immigrants to file taxes, and the United States Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") prohibiting these same individuals from lawfully working in the United States, is an ongoing controversy in this country. (14) The DHS, by means of its Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA") regulations, penalizes unauthorized immigrants who falsely claim to be United States citizens for purposes of obtaining employment, irrespective of whether the aliens filed and paid their taxes. (15) This Comment will focus on the inconsistencies between the IRS and the DHS, and suggest a proposal for amending the INA. (16)

Part I of this Comment introduced the overall inconsistency amongst the government agencies. (17) Part II focuses on the experiences of some unauthorized immigrants and the situations they face as unauthorized immigrants abiding by the law. (18) Part III introduces relevant background information useful to the understanding of who the immigrants are, what it means to be an inadmissible "alien," and the type of waivers for which they may qualify. (19) Part IV provides a brief description of the relevant immigration acts Congress enacted, and what misrepresentation on I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form ("Form I-9") means to the DHS and to immigrants. (20) Following this brief explanation on Form I-9, Part V introduces the ITIN, and the issues it raises. (21) Part VI considers the undocumented workers' tax contributions to the United States Government. (22) Part VII discusses recent proposals and their drawbacks. (23) Part VIII suggests a proposal to amend the INA and provide additional relief to certain undocumented workers who paid income taxes and are currently facing deportation. (24) Part IX concludes this Comment. (25)

II. IMMIGRANT LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES

A. IN THROUGH THE "FRONT DOOR"

On January 22, 1996, Mr. Ferrans, a citizen of Colombia, entered the United States through the "front door. …

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