Sort by

A Path to Citizenship With Taxes, But No Benefits?

Ilana Novick

The current version of immigration reform already includes a decade-plus path to citizenship, not to mention potential fees and fines, but it's progress -- more than Congress has made in years. Unfortunately, some senators have decided that the proposed long and winding path to citizenship wasn't hard enough, and one of them, Marco Rubio (R-FL), is backing away from his own bill, calling it merely "an excellent starting point."

The Hill reports that Senator Orrin Hatch along with Rubio teamed up last week to add two new amendments to the proposed immigration bill that would both prevent those in the liminal space between illegal alien and legal immigrant from receiving any government benefits, and require a five-year wait before they can benefit from the Affordable Care Act. 
Senator Hatch recently downplayed the strain that the back taxes requirement would mostly likely put on the Treasury Department, claiming "The IRS is well experienced at estimating the tax liabilities for people who, for whatever reason, lack the records that normally support a tax return. . . .  Using bank records, credit card statements, housing records, and other evidence of an individual’s lifestyle, the IRS is able to construct returns and estimate tax liabilities for nonfilers who are U.S. citizens and resident aliens. . . . the same process can be used for immigrants looking to certify they no longer owe any Federal taxes."
The truth, according to a recent commentary from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is that, "IRS does not routinely try to use such records to guesstimate people’s incomes. These are extreme methods, which it resorts to in only a very small number of cases each year." 
This would be a waste of time for the Treasury Department, not to mention a waste of money for the taxpayers who'd have to cover the extensive field audits. 
In the current version of the bill undocumented workers can become “registered provisional immigrants” (RPI) if they meet a series of requirements, which includes a waiting period, fees, and fines. RPIs would be eligible to work but would not qualify for federal benefit programs including Medicaid and SNAP. That's only the first hurdle. In order to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (and obtain a green card), applicants have to spend ten years as an RPI and would have to provide evidence of steady employment, among other requirements. 
They wouldn't be able to become a citizen for at least thirteen years. If Hatch and Rubio have their way, they'll also have to do this without accessing any federal benefits even as they're paying taxes. They also have to prove that they're not in danger of becoming a "public charge" later on. 
This privileges wealthier immigrants, "because the Department of Homeland Security could conclude that, unless they had high earnings, they could qualify for one of the above benefits at some future point." And in these Senators' opinions, this is clearly the worst thing a new American can do. 
Salon notes that Rubio's backtracking may be a way to protect himself against attacks from the Republican Party's most conservative pundits and the voters they influence, but his "wishy-washy" comments don't seem "leader-like."
More importantly, even though the original version of the bill was still full of compromises and hurdles, at least it's fair, and has bipartisan support. Let's hope Rubio won't through that away for the chance to briefly appease the conservative base.