APRIL showers bring May flowers . . . but April also brings U.S. residents – pretty much all of us, documented or not – the date of the 15th, which is the deadline for filing federal and state income tax returns. (Actually, the deadline for 2011 filings has been extended to April 18 because the 15th is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday observed in Washington, D.C.)
What does filing time mean for the undocumented population in the country? We’ve been asked time and time again if undocumented residents are obligated to file tax returns, and the answer is a resounding yes.
“Foreign workers who are illegal aliens (undocumented aliens) are subject to U.S. taxes in spite of their illegal status. U.S. employers or payers who hire illegal aliens (undocumented aliens) may be subject to various fines, penalties, and sanctions imposed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” says a notice on the website of the Internal Revenue Service, www.irs.gov.
“If such employers or payers choose to hire illegal aliens (undocumented aliens), the payments made to those aliens are subject to the same tax withholding and reporting obligations that apply to other classes of aliens . . . Illegal aliens (undocumented aliens) who are resident aliens and who receive income from performing dependent personal services are subject to the same reporting and withholding obligations which apply to U.S. citizens who receive the same kind of income.”
Undocumented residents question why they should have to comply with U.S. tax law given that they don’t enjoy many of the rights that U.S. citizens and legal residents have. Yes, they don’t have the right to vote, they cannot travel abroad and expect to return without issue, and they can’t apply for Social Security numbers.
But as long as they are resident in the U.S. they enjoy a host of services provided by the federal and local governments – everything from sanitation to schools – that are funded by taxpayers. That’s reason enough alone to pay their fair share.
Statistics indicate that a rising number of undocumented residents are filing returns using the IRS-mandated Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which stands in place of a Social Security number. An article in The Palm Beach Post last April reported a surge in annual ITIN applications, from just over 615,000 in 1999 to 1,837,583 in 2009. For the filing year 2008, just over two million returns were filed using ITINs.
Though comprehensive immigration reform seems dead in the water for the time being, perhaps the day will come when Congress finally gets its act together and deals with immigration once and for all. Undocumented residents hoping to avail of future legislation can be sure that a clean U.S. tax history will be part and parcel of any legislation, which is another good reason to comply with tax laws.
Of course there’s a fear of detection among the undocumented community when it comes to having any contact at all with any branch of government. That’s understandable, but those using ITIN numbers have nothing to fear when it comes to filing a return.
The IRS does not share information with the Department of Homeland Security about a taxpayer’s immigration status – the IRS wants the money for our cash-strapped government, and that’s the agency’s primary purpose.
Filing for an ITIN number is painless and can be done at www.irs.gov. For further information on tax obligations, contact an Irish immigration center. The Emerald Isle can be reached at 718-478-5502, www.eiic.org, and the Aisling Irish Center’s number is 914-237-5121, www.aislingcenter.org.