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Undocumented Immigrants and Taxes

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I've been out of the office reporting on children from migrant families in Pennsylvania, and I see that several of you have posted your reflections about who picks up the tab--and who should pick up the tab--for educating undocumented immigrants. See "Utah Asks Feds to Pay for Educating Undocumented Children."

The comment that got me thinking was posted by Barbara Acosta. She said: "If we think cutting services to immigrants will lower our taxes, then it would only be fair to pay a decent price for our T-shirts, bluejeans and lettuce so those families can make a decent living and remain in their homelands."

This struck a chord with me particularly because, on my reporting trip this week, I interviewed Gonzalo Cano, 21, who described what it was like to work as a mushroom picker on weekends and during the summer when he was 17 and had just moved from Mexico to Avondale, Pa., with his family. He noted that he reported to work at 3 a.m. to begin harvesting so that there would be time for other workers to package the mushrooms and drivers to transport them to a customer on the same day that they were picked. "The mushroom has to be fresh," he said.

I came to better appreciate mushroom pickers, some of whom are undocumented, and the value of fresh mushrooms after interviewing Mr. Cano. I wonder if some Americans with strong views that undocumented immigrants shouldn't get government services might soften some of those views if they heard the stories of undocumented families face-to-face.

A blog reader with the name of "Lilathe" provoked the blog comments by writing that "illegals do not pay taxes." Indeed, many undocumented immigrants do not pay income taxes, which is a sore point with critics of illegal immigration. But they do contribute to the economy and pay some taxes, such as sales taxes. Sharon Kayne, the communications director of New Mexico Voices for Children, points this out in her blog comments.

July 27 update: See this article, "Illegal Immigrants Filing Taxes More Than Ever," for an additional perspective.

6 Comments

What many Americans fail to remember is that even with increases in minimum wage, US born workers are not banging down the doors for jobs packaging chicken and beef, butchering in the slaughter houses, and picking fruit and vegetables in the agricultural industry we still have. At the same time, US consumers are alarmed at the contaminated food items coming in from China and food producers (for example US catfish industry) are being pushed out of business by the influx of foreign food without the obligations of the same standards. US born workers are equally not standing in line for jobs caring for the sick, disabled, and dying. Nor are they standing in line for jobs cleaning hotel rooms, folding towels in industrial laundries, or working in the kitchens of restaurants.

Our economy functions in significant ways with unskilled immigrant workers, documented and undocumented. It always has. Without these workers, our economy and way of life would vastly change. So the question really boils down to what Americans are willing to give up. Do we wish to see a complete end to US agriculture and farming and become 100% dependent on foreign food? Do we wish to see the end of hotels, resorts, and restaurants?
How about the sick and dying? Are we willing and able to pay more for these services if those industries increase salaries sufficiently, as an incentive to attract US workers?

The media and politicians turn this complicated topic into 5 second oversimplified statements designed to inflame sentiments. There's lots of hot air and little intelligent dialogue. The Utah legislators decided that students who were identified LEP and below the poverty line had to be undocumented. Sounds like fuzzy math to me.

Whenever I go to the market and pass by lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, strawberries, and lemons, I remember the adults I taught who came to night school to learn English. After 12-14 hours of hard toil picking in the fields, they skipped dinner, ran home to shower and came to class every single night. They were not all undocumented either. Through those years of experiences, I have the greatest respect for those individuals and have never looked at US made products the same way.

Mary Ann, I realize I may have confused two issues when I made the previous comment saying "If we think cutting services to immigrants will lower our taxes, then it would only be fair to pay a decent price for our T-shirts, bluejeans and lettuce so those families can make a decent living and remain in their homelands."

First, because of free trade agreements between the U.S., Latin America and other places in the world, wages are kept exceedingly low oversees. Add to this the competition from agribusinesses in this country who can now produce rice and corn much more cheaply than in poor countries. This puts local farmers out of business, and creates severe economic hardships in these countries, forcing many families to make the heart-breaking choice between starving or immigrating to the U.S. without documentation.

The second issue, which you bring up, is that many of these same immigrants, especially undocumented ones, are grateful for any work they can get once they arrive in the U.S. They are typically paid exceedingly low wages by U.S. standards (often below minimum wage) for jobs many North Americans are unwilling to do. As you and Rochelle point out, we might attract more citizens to work those jobs if we raised the wages -- perhaps.

The point is, this issue crosses borders. You can't have low taxes, low prices, AND succeed in reducing immigration. Something's got to give.

It's expensive to educate an undocumented immigrant; but, it's more expensive not to. What are we to do with the children of illegals, deny them an education? Should we allow them to roam the streets while their parents are at work? Could you imagine the kind of mischief they would get themselves into. Education is an investment. Even if the child is an illegal immigrant, he or she will certainly be better off with American schooling, and so will America.

Rochelle said "What many Americans fail to remember is that even with increases in minimum wage, US born workers are not banging down the doors for jobs packaging chicken and beef, butchering in the slaughter houses".
When the Swift plant near here was raided and the illegals removed, there were 300 Americans lined up outside the plant the next morning. Some of those applying had formerlly worked there but had been replaced by illegal aliens that would work for less money. They did have to increase the wage by $2 an hour over what they paid the illegals but I am willing to pay a bit more for my meat rather than see the exploitation of other human beings.
This same plant is currently operating at full staff without illegals. So there are in fact Americans willing to work these jobs.
Americans make up 2/3 of all workers in the industrries that we attribute to jobs illegals will do but Americans won't do. If in fact 2/3 of the workers are Americans then it stands to reason these are in fact jobs that Americans WILL do, just not for below a fair living wage.
I know American landscapers, American roofers, American meat packers, American butchers and all are proud of their work. I resent you making fun of their occupations or inferring that hard work or certain jobs are beneath Americans or that Americans employed in these fields are somehow "less" than illegals that work the same job.

I want to say that the undocumented do pay taxes. When did you ever get a job and told your employer not to deduct socail security or federal, state of local taxes. If you did, he would not employ you. Yes if you claim lots of dependents then you will not have to pay federal taxes but as for social security, state and local taxes they are automatically deducted. Sadly the social security is deducted and these workers never see that money again. They have no SS# and when they turn 65 are unable to claim this money. Think about it, how much money does the federal government have that is never claim by millions of undocumented workers. Funny all we hear is that the social security system is broke but where is all that money?

Is the Spanish language a real problem for the U.S., or just a convenient excuse to avoid solving the real problem?

The age-old pesky U.S.-Mexico border problem has taxed the resources of both countries, led to long lists of injustices, and appears to be heading only for worse troubles in the future. Guess what? The border problem can never be solved. Why? Because the border IS the problem! It's time for a paradigm change.

Never fear, a satisfying, comprehensive solution is within reach: the Megamerge Dissolution Solution. Simply dissolve the border along with the failed Mexican government, and megamerge the two countries under U.S. law, with mass free 2-way migration eventually equalizing the development and opportunities permanently, with justice and without racism, and without threatening U.S. sovereignty or basic principles.

To read the proposal, Google "Megamerge Dissolution Solution", or click url.

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