By Leticia Miranda, Senior Policy Advisor, Economic Security Policy, NCLR
Momentum is certainly on the side of immigration reform, but the reality is that there are still plenty of ways that the current debate over the Senate immigration bill, S. 744, can go south. It’s no secret that some senators are attempting to restrict the pool of potential applicants for legalization. One way to do that is to essentially price them out of the process by piling on amendments that would drive up the costs.
Similar to previous generations of immigrants, today’s aspiring citizens are doing hard work in difficult jobs for lower wages than other Americans. The typical aspiring citizen is a married person with two children who works and earns about $34,400 annually. Like many Americans, they spend most of their family’s budget covering basic living expenses such as housing, transportation, food, taxes, and expenses related to raising children. They have enough to just get by, with little left over at the end of the month.
Under the Senate Judiciary Committee version of S. 744, the road to citizenship is already tough. It will be difficult for many of these hardworking families to afford the stiff fines and fees associated with legalization. Under the bill, a registered provisional immigrant (RPI) family would pay $3,000 in fines and an additional estimated $5,000 in fees over ten years as they progress through the legalization process. Families will need to save $800 per year to have enough to pay all the fines and fees. But some senators don’t think this already tough bill goes far enough and are determined to increase the price tag.
Potential pitfalls that could block the road to citizenship include:
- A Sessions amendment that would restrict the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to only legal permanent residents or citizens would cost RPI families about $2,800 annually and harm millions of Latino children. RPI families—who will have legal work status and valid Social Security numbers—will be relegated to a second-class status and made to pay taxes that are over 300% higher than taxes for other American families who earn the exact same income. This is not a good way to attract Hispanic voters.
- The Hatch and Rubio Amendment #1247 would require RPI families to pay all back taxes since the date of arrival before they can get on the path to citizenship. While millions have been paying their taxes, total outstanding back taxes for some RPI families may average around $15,300 in total, or $1,530 per year. The Senate bill already requires that immigrants pay their assessed back taxes and all taxes going forward; moreover, the $3,000 in fines were meant to replace a back tax requirement. This amendment could unravel the bill since millions of workers were paid in cash off the books by unscrupulous employers, making it impossible to document past earnings and creating an administrative nightmare for the IRS.
Just the additional costs of those two amendments alone would leave RPI families in the hole by almost $5,000. But why stop there? An additional amendment, Hatch-Rubio #1249, would attack future finances. This amendment seeks to deny newly legalized workers the Social Security benefits they earned through their prior work and payroll tax payments, despite the fact that these hardworking taxpayers have already contributed over $200 billion in payroll taxes to the Social Security Trust Fund. This Hatch-Rubio amendment punishes immigrant taxpayers.
The objective of immigration reform is to restore the rule of law by creating a real roadmap to citizenship for qualified families who are working and contributing positively to their communities. If Senators Hatch, Rubio, and Sessions are determined to extract their pound of flesh from aspiring citizens, then they are seriously jeopardizing the goals of this legislation.
The Senate bill already makes earning legal status extraordinarily difficult, lengthy, and expensive. What do we have to gain from adding unnecessary obstacles to legalization for families simply trying to come out of the shadows?