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Latino groups, Rubio at odds over crackdown on immigrant tax credits


Rubio’s proposal would prevent undocumented immigrants from claiming a child tax credit.

A little-known bill filed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) this month that would impede undocumented immigrants from claiming a child tax credit is drawing fire from Latino groups and immigrant activists who say it could adversely impact poor immigrant children.

The Cuban-American senator, who is also a potential vice presidential nominee, has also faced accusations of hypocrisy from liberal groups, which noted that the bill comes at the same time Rubio is crafting an alternative to the DREAM Act that is designed to aid undocumented youth.

In question is the “Responsible Child Tax Credit Eligibility Act of 2012,” which Rubio introduced jointly with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) without fanfare earlier this month. The proposal comes in response to a government report that showed undocumented immigrants claimed $4.2 billion in child tax credits in 2010, according to a letter the senators circulated to their colleagues.

Under current law, taxpayers without a Social Security number can claim a refundable child tax credit with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Rubio has said there have been many instances of families living in the United States fraudulently claiming the credit for children who do not live in the U.S.

In response, his three-page bill requires that “certain nonresident aliens provide valid immigration documents to claim the refundable portion of the child tax credit.” A counterpart proposal has been offered by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)

But Latino groups countered last week that the allegations of fraud are overblown and that  the proposal is too broad, claiming it could take away benefits from 5 million children of immigrants, many of whom are U.S. citizens.

“This bill take[s] a sledgehammer to an issue that requires a scalpel,” Wendy Cervantes, vice president for immigration and child rights policy for the child advocacy group First Focus, told reporters on a conference call.

The groups said that the proposal would fall disproportionately on “blameless” Latino children who live in immigrant households. Leticia Miranda, a senior policy adviser at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) said millions of children could be driven deeper into poverty since the average income of families who claim the refundable credit is only $21,000.

“Latino voters are watching to see how the community is treated in terms of real public policy decisions, not just rhetoric,” Miranda said. “It’s bad politics.”

In a press release, NCLR claimed undocumented immigrants paid over $9 billion in payroll taxes in 2010 that went toward Social Security and Medicare benefits they cannot collect, more than 2.5 times what they received under the child tax credit.

The dispute over the tax credit bill comes at a time when Rubio has worked behind the scenes courting the support of immigrant-rights groups and Democrats for his yet-to-be-released DREAM Act alternative, which would provide legal status to certain undocumented minors seeking a higher education or military service.

The Florida senator has received flack from some immigration hard liners on the right, who view it as an “amnesty” plan, and from some on the left, who label it a “half-measure” compared to the current DREAM Act, which provides a separate pathway to citizenship.

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said that the senator is forging ahead with both proposals.

“We’re still in the process of gathering sponsors,” he said. “We’re continuing to develop Sen. Rubio’s proposal to help high-achieving, undocumented children and hope to have bipartisan legislation soon.”

Rubio’s tax credit bill has not yet been considered by the Senate Finance Committee, and it’s unclear how far it will advance in the Democrat-controlled upper chamber.

The senator defended his proposal last month as a common-sense measure.

“I haven’t taken any heat because it’s the logical thing to do. It’s filed publicly. It’s available for everyone to see,” he said, according to the Miami Herald. “The bill’s pretty straightforward. There are people in this country filing for child tax credits for children who don’t even live in the United States and it has been documented and it was never intended for that purpose,” he added. “It’s not even legal to do it now. All this does is say if you don’t have a Social Security Number, and you did file for the tax credit, you have to file paperwork proving that those children who are receiving the tax credit are here in the United States.

Latino and immigrant-rights groups pointed out that the type of fraud that Rubio is targeting (U.S. tax dollars going to kids living overseas) is already illegal under the tax code. They suggested that the senator take a narrower approach by focusing on rooting out individual instances of fraud and asking only for proof that the children whom families are claiming for the credit live in the U.S., and not immigration papers for the filer and children.

“[Rubio] is transforming the IRS into an immigration enforcement agency,” Miranda said. “[It] doesn’t address the fraud that is being alleged.”

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