Undocumented Immigrants and Taxes

By Mary Ann Zehr — July 26, 2007 1 min read
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I’ve been out of the office reporting on children from migrant families in Pennsylvania, and I see that several of you have posted your reflections about who picks up the tab--and who should pick up the tab--for educating undocumented immigrants. See “Utah Asks Feds to Pay for Educating Undocumented Children.”

The comment that got me thinking was posted by Barbara Acosta. She said: “If we think cutting services to immigrants will lower our taxes, then it would only be fair to pay a decent price for our T-shirts, bluejeans and lettuce so those families can make a decent living and remain in their homelands.”

This struck a chord with me particularly because, on my reporting trip this week, I interviewed Gonzalo Cano, 21, who described what it was like to work as a mushroom picker on weekends and during the summer when he was 17 and had just moved from Mexico to Avondale, Pa., with his family. He noted that he reported to work at 3 a.m. to begin harvesting so that there would be time for other workers to package the mushrooms and drivers to transport them to a customer on the same day that they were picked. “The mushroom has to be fresh,” he said.

I came to better appreciate mushroom pickers, some of whom are undocumented, and the value of fresh mushrooms after interviewing Mr. Cano. I wonder if some Americans with strong views that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t get government services might soften some of those views if they heard the stories of undocumented families face-to-face.

A blog reader with the name of “Lilathe” provoked the blog comments by writing that “illegals do not pay taxes.” Indeed, many undocumented immigrants do not pay income taxes, which is a sore point with critics of illegal immigration. But they do contribute to the economy and pay some taxes, such as sales taxes. Sharon Kayne, the communications director of New Mexico Voices for Children, points this out in her blog comments.

July 27 update: See this article, “Illegal Immigrants Filing Taxes More Than Ever,” for an additional perspective.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.