When the headline for this article showed up in Yahoo’s news feed it had all the trappings of a prank. The Onion struck again. The same IRS that tried to play dumb when its employees got mixed up in a ‘Star Trek’ parody and later defended offering bonuses to boost employee morale wouldn’t stand by while undocumented immigrants were using phony W-2 information and borrowing citizen’s social security numbers to file bogus returns…would they? According to testimony at a Senate committee hearing, John Koskinen admitted they do. The IRS chief defended the agency’s efforts, before noting “it’s in everybody’s interest to have them pay the taxes they owe.” Koskinen insisted the IRS would look for a way to notify any taxpayers affected by his agency’s decision to process thousands of fraudulent returns, then pointed out that immigration enforcement is not the IRS’s business. It is one that falls to social security and immigration authorities. But when he spoke to reporters after another hearing the next day, Koskinen dismissed their efforts because it would frighten immigrants and interfere with tax collection. The same misguided argument has been made before.
The trouble isn’t just what chairman Dan Coats’ panel found, it’s how at-ease Commissioner Koskinen was in admitting the IRS is essentially complicit in identity theft. Just another day at the office. In light of the atmosphere surrounding immigration law in America, this story is not a surprise. It goes beyond the potential refunds associated with phony returns into child tax credits and could eventually open a door to the Earned Income Tax Credit. But federal taxes are only the peak of a crooked pyramid that involves more than the estimated 11 million immigrants living “in the shadows.” A number of states from California and Nevada to Illinois and Maryland are issuing driver’s licenses because “for the vast majority of people, getting a license is a good decision.” What Alison Kamhi missed in her defense is just as important; passing a written test and buying an insurance policy does not change the legal standing of a license-holder. The states issuing licenses are leaving their recipients “in the shadows.” The California legislature voted to follow Washington and Massachusetts into offering publicly-financed health care to children of undocumented immigrants. The list goes on.
This hot-button topic has another side, one that gets little notice. Border enforcement draws more of the public’s attention; one of the more infamous attempts by a state to take charge is Arizona’s SB 1070. The bill carried four provisions, but three were overturned by the Supreme Court — one involved a key attraction. Employment. The regular dispatch from groups like Los Angeles’ Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights is that immigrants are here to fill jobs Americans will not. There are some fields with high proportions of immigrants, areas like construction and agriculture that offer low wages and require little education. If undocumented immigrants are continuing to fill jobs like these, Americans will too. At higher wages. What’s left is an open secret, a legal patchwork employers are exploiting that leave it to states like Arizona and California to adapt and resolve nothing. President Obama’s executive orders won’t change that, they’ll continue to ignore it. Deferred Action won’t bring immigrants out of the shadows, it will leave all 11 million of them in legal limbo and offer a work permit as compensation. Whatever the results of US v. Texas, the shadow will remain.
The irony is that Congress has refused to step up to the plate. Its GOP majority has caterwaulled endlessly about executive amnesty and promised to defund it. Ted Cruz was among a group of senators leading the charge in 2014 to “stand up” and “refuse to allocate taxpayer dollars to lawless and illegal amnesty.” There were several attempts to amend 2013’s “gang of eight” bill and weaken its now-infamous “pathway to citizenship,” but the deal remains undone. The choice is not between a bad bill and no bill; it’s an open door for a better bargain, something shorter and more focused than the 1,197-page, Senate-passed grand plan. The stream of people from nations like Mexico and Cuba looking for a way in will have to be confronted at the border and in the workplace. But even if Trump’s wall is built and the influx is stopped cold there are millions more already here whose status will have to be settled: deportation or naturalization. The Trump/Cruz faction will argue anything less than deportation is a reward for violators and play it up as amnesty. But inaction is equivalent to amnesty: millions of people will continue to live here, pay taxes, carry driver’s licenses, have access to Medicaid — maybe the ballot — and remain outside the law. The effort to collect taxes from illegals is another signpost on a shadowy road.