5 myths about amnesty for illegal immigrants in Senate bill

President Obama and the Gang of Eight senators are repeating a number of talking points designed to elicit support for amnesty, or as they call it, "'earned legalization," for immigrants who have come to the United States illegally. The so-called "path to citizenship" is part of a bipartisan Senate immigration bill.

The current version of the bill provides immediate legal status and many benefits to illegal immigrants who pass a background check and pay some fees and fines. Applicants can meet additional requirements years down the road if they wish to switch this "provisional status" to green-card status and eventual US citizenship.

On close inspection, however, the hoops illegal immigrants are required to jump through do not amount to much. Each of the following five claims about the requirements for illegal immigrants to earn amnesty are not what they seem.

1. They must pay back taxes

Eduardo Verdugo/AP
Residents toss food to migrants riding on top of a train heading toward the US-Mexico border, in Union Hidalgo, Mexico, April 29.

Jon Feere is the legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Despite claims from amnesty advocates, the bill does not contain a requirement that illegal immigrants pay back taxes for the many years they have been working off the books. The only requirement in the bill is that illegal immigrants must iron out any existing problems they may have with the IRS. If the IRS has ever audited the illegal immigrant and requested payment of unpaid taxes, they would be required to pay them before receiving amnesty.

The reality is that the 45 percent of illegal immigrants estimated to be working off the books are not even on the IRS's radar and are highly unlikely to have ever been audited. There simply aren't any tax forms to audit. Of the remaining illegal immigrants, the number who have been audited by the IRS is also likely very small, simply because historically the IRS audits only about 1 percent of tax filers.

The current tax provision in the bill will not be of any consequence to the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants who apply for the amnesty. That is why at least one amendment has been offered, thus far, that would actually require payment of back taxes for the period amnesty applicants have worked illegally in the United States.
The bill also does not require employers of illegal immigrants to pay FICA taxes for the years they paid illegal immigrants under the table.

Still, this should not come as a surprise. Right after the 1986 amnesty became law, Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York snuck a provision into a tax law that barred amnesty adjudicators from sharing the tax information of amnesty applicants with the IRS.

Mr. Schumer reasoned: “Obviously, we could not have a successful legalization program if by submitting an application an alien became vulnerable to an enforcement action by the IRS.” Similarly, the Bush administration requested Congress strip a back-taxes provision from the failed 2007 amnesty bill.

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