IRS reaches out to immigrants
Offers tax ID numbers for those who lack Social Security
By Stephen Wall
The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA), April 12, 2010
As Tax Day approaches, more and more illegal immigrants are coming out of the shadows and filing tax returns.
Undocumented workers are doing so to show the government they are hardworking contributors to society who are worthy of legal residency and citizenship if immigration reform becomes a reality.
The Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is used by the IRS to help people pay taxes even if they don't have a Social Security number.
The ITIN was created by the IRS in 1996.
It is issued regardless of immigration status because legal and illegal immigrants may have filing or reporting requirements under the tax code.
In the past decade, the IRS has issued nearly 14 million ITINs nationwide.
Many people who use ITINs are undocumented workers, but others need them as well.
Foreign-born students and investors in U.S. businesses also may not be eligible for Social Security numbers, but they are required to pay taxes if they earn income.
The IRS doesn't keep tabs on whether an ITIN applicant is in the country legally, IRS spokesman Raphael Tulino said.
The taxpayer identification number does not entitle filers to Social Security benefits and does not change their immigration status nor their right to work in the United States.
'The purpose of the ITIN is to give folks who have a tax purpose a number to file a tax return if they are not eligible to get a Social Security number,' Tulino said. 'The purpose of that number is for federal tax purposes, and that's it.'
The annual number of ITINs issued by the IRS has nearly tripled over the past decade, from 615,414 in 1999 to more than $1.8 million in 2009.
'I think it's more accessible to people,' said Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst at the Immigration Policy Center in Washington, D.C. 'It's also a possibility that more immigrants are getting them because there have been immigration reform bills in the past couple of years. In anticipation of a legalization program, people understand they need to pay their taxes and get their paperwork in order.'
Critics said the ITIN gives quasi-legal status to people in the country illegally.
'It's a tacit acknowledgment on the part of the government that you have all these people working here illegally, and the government is doing nothing about it,' said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C.
'This is especially concerning given the high levels of unemployment we're now experiencing,' he said.