Monday, August 12, 2013

U.S. Senate Out of Touch!?

The following represents an email exchange between a friend of this blog (and a former colleague) Jim Washburn and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. We think you will find the exchange interesting and insightful:

Here’s the response Jim received from Senator Leahy to an email message he sent advising the Senator of his serious concerns with this country’s Immigration and Social Security systems:

August 2, 2013

Dear Mr. Washburn:

Thank you for contacting me about Social Security and our immigration system.    I appreciate hearing from you on these issues. 

Individuals working in the United States or who have other sources of U.S. income are required to pay taxes, irrespective of immigration status.    For this reason, individuals who are not eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN) may apply to the IRS to obtain an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), which they can use like an SSN to file a tax return.    While many undocumented workers use the ITIN program to file income tax returns, not all ITIN filers are undocumented.    For example, nonresident aliens who need to pay taxes on U.S. source income or dependents of individuals with certain work-related visas also use ITINs.

In general, filing a tax return with an ITIN is almost exactly like filing a return with an SSN, and the filer is subject to the same tax rules and is eligible for the same tax benefits.    For example, ITIN filers may claim the personal and dependent exemptions, the standard deduction and itemized deductions, and non-refundable credits, such as the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, several million undocumented workers each year file income tax returns  and /or have taxes withheld by their employer , collectively paying over $11 billion in state and local taxes each year.    These undocumented workers  collectively  pay  billions more  each year in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes , according to the Social Security Administration .    Like other tax filers, undocumented workers filing tax returns with ITINs may claim the refundable Child Tax Credit (CTC) . In the majority  of these cases, the CTC is claimed on behalf of U.S. citizen children.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act , S.744, which passed the Senate on June 27,  would explicitly bar those in Registered Provisional Status, who would use ITINs to file tax returns, from claiming the CTC, any subsidies related to the Affordable Care Act, or any other federal public benefits.    This legislation would also prohibit these immigrants from counting their working years in  Registered Provisional Immigrant  status  towards future Social Security claims.    In other words, the  federal  government would tax these individuals while not giving them certain tax benefits bestowed on all other Americans.    I personally think this is wrong, especially because there are  millions of mixed-status households across America where American citizen children will directly suffer from these provisions.    However, I am willing to accept these provisions as part of an overall compromise to reform our broken immigration system.

According to Steve Goss, the Social Security Chief Actuary,  this bill would generate over $200 billion for the Social Security trust fund over the next decade.   Increased tax collections would primarily come from undocumented workers who would become Registered Provisional Immigrants.

The immigration debate will now move  to the House of Representatives. I will continue to push for comprehensive reforms that boost the economy, improve wages and working conditions for all workers, strengthen the lives of individuals, protect families, improve border security, and provide equal protection under the law for all people  living  in America .    We have a historic opportunity to get this right.  The time for commonsense reforms to our immigration system is now.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please keep in touch. 


United States Senator

Here is Jim’s response to the Senator:

August 4, 2013

Dear Senator Leahy,

Thank you for your very comprehensive response.

I am concerned that the use of such large numbers implies a large net contribution of taxes by the Illegal Alien population.  Taking the $20B over a decade into $2B a year from 12 million illegals works out to about $167.00 per person per year, and $11B in local taxes is about $916.00 per year.  The $20B number, which is only a projection based on the passage of Immigration reform, (not what is actually collected now), may not come close to the cost to the economy for:

  • health care costs,
  • education expenses including second language instruction,
  • refunds of CTC credits
  • minimum income credits
  • other welfare/social programs that they may be eligible for, and
  • the significant law enforcement and incarceration costs of criminal aliens in States like California.

Having a report on how many alien tax returns are actually filed, how much was paid by the aliens, and how much in CTC and MIC were effectively paid out to these alien and their children deserve to be included in a fair discussion of this issue.

The real net costs to this country today of illegal aliens should not be shuffled aside and effectively covered up by only talking about future possible income without future possible costs.  This is especially important because the promises made for enforcement reform under the 1980's Legalization program didn't happen, and without hard guarantees this time, we'll be seeing a repeat of today’s debates again in another 20-30 years!

One sided numbers of contributions without cost on this issue are much like the discussion of our overall Federal Debt/Deficit without a serious bottom line analysis.

I'll get excited about Immigration Reform when I see real plus and minus numbers combined with serious enforcement and border control measures.

Again, I appreciate your detailed response, and hope you can obtain and publish the numbers  and information that could gain my support for serious and comprehensive Immigration Law reform.


James L. Washburn
Shelburne, VT

The foregoing has been reprinted with the expressed permission of the author.

Please send your comments to this blog entry or any other topic related to immigration, immigration reform, or the Federal agencies which administer our immigration laws to me at

Ben Ferro

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