Guest Blog by Bruce Strom
The alien within our borders suffers many injustices. Administer Justice, the Christian legal aid ministry that I lead, is often criticized for assisting undocumented individuals. Many Christians view our involvement as a failure to obey the authorities. It is not. But understanding what the authorities say is both complex and contradictory.
On the one hand our law provides that one who entered the country without a proper status or remained in this country and lost that status is here unlawfully. On the other hand, Congress chose in 1984 to broaden the definition of “resident alien” for tax purposes to include anyone with a “substantial presence” within the United States. That expansion recognized our lack of border patrol and sought a way to collect taxes from undocumented workers.
In 1996, the IRS created the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) knowing that many of the 7.3 million ITINs issued through 2004 were to unlawful residents. Congress created a system for the collection of taxes by undocumented workers, while not permitting lawful work. As a result, many workers use false Social Security numbers which contribute to significant issues of identity theft, fraud and abuse. This goes both ways as many workers are not paid for work performed and many employers fail to report and pay taxes which should be paid as they work off the books.
When taxes are paid by these workers, it creates a mismatch with Social Security resulting in the funds being deposited in an earnings suspense file which added $56 billion in 2002 to the $420 billion already in the file. These funds help sustain our current system while the workers are unable to claim any of the benefits. Low income taxpayer clinics like Administer Justice’s seek to navigate this complexity by educating in the illegal use of Social Security numbers and the completion of taxes with ITINs attaching W-2’s which may have a Social Security number on them. These mismatches do not create identity theft issues since the taxpayer is identified. But the problems remain and grow larger every year.
Our government encourages the filing of taxes by resident aliens but disqualifies them from the largest government benefit designed to help low-income workers—the earned income tax credit. Our government adopts laws prohibiting discrimination in education and health care, allowing enforcement of alien rights in civil courts, but denying most public benefits including public housing. The result is frequently that more than one family will reside together in a home. While the burden is greater on local communities, these communities benefit from sales of goods and services, sales taxes, property taxes and with labor that could not be replaced were we suddenly to remove all undocumented workers from the economy.
Administer Justice obeys the authorities. Where benefits are permitted we enforce those benefits and where they are denied we pursue alternatives which do not include fraud. However, the system is broken. There are no lines to tell an immigrant to go stand in so they can become a citizen. There are no simple solutions. We need to pray, study, talk to those affected and work toward some comprehensive solution. There are several excellent books to begin this process including Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate and Christians at the Border:Immigration, the Church and the Bible. As we get to know the alien among us the complexities of the issue will become more apparent. May we pray and work together toward a just solution.
Bruce Strom is the founder and Executive Director of Administer Justice, one of the leading Christian Legal Aid organizations in the country. He is an attorney, frequent lecturer on justice issues, and a leading advocate for gospel justice for the poor in America. Visit www.administerjustice.org for more information.
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