I am undocumented, should I file taxes?




“I have been living here undocumented for five years. I have a job and a nice life, except for the fact that I’m not legal. I do not have any prospects on the horizon on that end either – no American girlfriend to marry, and no chance of a relative sponsoring me for anything. I know tax time in the U.S. is coming up, and I’ve heard that the undocumented should file taxes. But I’m wondering what benefit this is to me, considering that I don’t have any of the advantages of legality. Should I file, or keep ignoring?”

This column isn’t in the habit of encouraging people to break the law, and we’re not going to start now. Paying U.S. taxes if you’re a resident of the country – either legal or undocumented – is the law, end of story, so that’s good enough reason right there for compliance.

Why should the undocumented pay taxes? There are many reasons, apart from the aforementioned one.

You say that you have no prospects for getting legal, and that may be true for now, but how about the future? Now that President Obama has more or less fulfilled the signature promise of his campaign, health care reform, he’ll be free to focus on other critical issues, such as comprehensive immigration reform.

There has been plenty of talk and activity on that front these past few weeks, with Senators Lindsey Graham and Charles Schumer putting forth a blueprint on how to achieve elusive reform. And you can be absolutely sure that, if reform passes, those who avail of it will have to clean up their tax histories here and join the system just like the rest of us.

You’ve lived here for several years, which must mean that at state and local levels you’ve availed of services that are customarily paid for by tax dollars, such as sanitation, road maintenance, police and fire departments, etc. Those things aren’t cheap, and need tax dollars to be sustainable. The undocumented shouldn’t be entitled to a free pass.

It is understandable that undocumented immigrants would be reluctant to file tax federal tax returns because of a fear of discovery. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS_ has assured that it does not report undocumented filers, and in fact would have a hard time discovering a filer’s immigration status.

In place of a Social Security number, the standard identification for a tax return, undocumented immigrants can apply for an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) in its place. But the undocumented aren’t the only ones who use these numbers.

“IRS issues ITINs to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have, and are not eligible to obtain a Social Security number . . . ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status because both resident and nonresident aliens may have a U.S. filing or reporting requirement under the Internal Revenue Code,” says a note on the IRS site. “ITINs are for federal tax reporting only, and are not intended to serve any other purpose.”

If you choose to start complying with the law, you should seek the advice of a tax professional who can help guide you, or the Irish immigration center nearest to where you live. (You didn’t provide an address, but a quick Google search should turn up results.)

To learn more about ITINs, click here. Tax deadline is April 15, but extensions are available.

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