When Americans rush to make Wednesday’s deadline to file their income tax returns, millions of undocumented immigrants will be doing the same.
“I pay because I don’t like to hear people say that they are helping me or supporting me being here,” said 46-year-old Carmen Garcia, who echoed the sentiments of other undocumented immigrants.
Garcia came to the United States from Mexico 23 years ago and has been working in private homes as a nanny in the Bay Area ever since.
She’s among the millions of undocumented residents who have no social security card or legal residency, but still pay taxes.
“Many people think [undocumented workers] are here mooching off the system,” said Mona Ibarra, assistant manager of the H&R Block at 16th and Valencia. “Most want to do the legal and honest thing.”
Internal Revenue Services (IRS) spokesperson Jesse Weller said everyone who is in the country and receives income, regardless of legal status, needs to file taxes. To make that easier, since 1996 the IRS has offered those without a social security number an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, known as an ITIN.
“We help people to comply with ITINs,” said Weller.
Undocumented workers are a large segment of the population that uses the nine-digit processing number to file. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that in 2005, 7.2 million undocumented workers were employed in the U.S. labor force.
Ibarra from H&R Block said she has seen an increase in the number of undocumented people coming in to file taxes.
She tells her customers who hesitate because of the information tax forms require, “All the IRS is concerned about is getting their money.”
IRS code 6103 protects tax return information from being disclosed to other departments, including Homeland Security.
Mission District tax accountants make it easy for their clients to get the tax identification number.
At Liberty Tax Service on 24th Street near Harrison, a three-fold company brochure screams, “Free ITIN Number” in Spanish and explains the documentation needed to apply for an ITIN—a passport, birth certificate or home country identification—as well as the benefits of having one.
Although an ITIN cannot be used to work legally in the country, it can be used to set up checking accounts, establish credit, and buy a car or house.
Tax and immigration expert Leo Lacayo said the possibility of a new amnesty program under the Obama administration has been a big incentive for undocumented workers to start paying taxes, but many have paid taxes for years.
During his election campaign, Obama supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and his administration has recently indicated they will pursue immigration reform.
“Everybody who wants to legalize themselves should do this,” said Lacayo, who has been in the Mission for 20 years.
Lacayo said that by filing taxes an undocumented individual establishes a legal record of living in the country for themselves and their immediate family members, and demonstrates an ability to earn income and follow the laws.
In addition to income tax, undocumented immigrants also pay millions of dollars in sales tax.
“Every time they buy something from the corner store … Heck, every time they buy a loaf of bread they are paying taxes into our system.”
In addition, the U.S. Social Security Administration estimates that three quarters of undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes and contribute $6 to $7 billion a year to the social security fund—money that the immigrants never collect, according to a story by Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.
For residents of the Mission District, tax preparation services are not hard to find. But Carmen Benedet, a Hispanic tax expert at Liberty Tax Service on 24th Street, warned that consumers must be careful not to be taken advantage of by illegitimate tax preparers.
Benedet said some tax preparers try to make the filing process more confusing than it really is. She said tax preparers should never charge you to make changes, convince you to lie about information on your forms for tax credits, or have you sign that you prepared your tax form yourself.
Tax preparation in the neighborhood can range anywhere between $79 to $250 dollars depending on the amount of documents, tax credits and work it takes to file your specific case.
For those who can’t afford these services and want help filing, free tax services are offered at more than 160 sites throughout the Bay Area as part of the city’s Earn It, Keep It, Save It Program.
The Women’s Building in the Mission holds one of those sites. Community Programs Director Corrine Buchanan said that by the time April 15 comes around they will have helped 450 people file tax returns, and that the need for tax preparation has been so great by both documented and undocumented individuals that they have had to turn people away.
She thinks every Mission District nonprofit should be offering tax preparation services on site because the process can be confusing and hard to do alone.
“Undocumented workers like day laborers and domestic workers should know that their employers are not doing them any favors by paying them cash under the table,” Buchanan said.
Workers who receive cash all year long are considered self-employed and are forced to keep track of their own work records. They also have to make up for the taxes employers are normally held responsible for paying out.
The nanny Garcia said that after calculating her earnings, it turned out she owes $400. Although she doesn’t have the cash in hand, she has a payment plan.
“I called the IRS and told them I can only afford right now to pay half, and that I will give them payments,” she said. The difficulty aside, Ruiz said she will continue to do her taxes as long as she is living in the United States.
“I want to contribute and I want to stay in this country,” she said.