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GOP amendment pits unemployed against undocumented immigrant families

Senate Republicans propose paying for an extension of unemployment insurance by cutting off tax credits for children of undocumented immigrants.
Immigration reform proponents demonstrate during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 3, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Immigration reform proponents demonstrate during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 3, 2013 in Washington, DC.

A debate over jobs, the budget, and immigration are on a collision course this week as Republican Senators demand Congress bar undocumented families from claiming tax credits in exchange for GOP votes on an unemployment insurance extension.

Majority Leader Harry Reid is against the proposed amendment from Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, but a senior Democratic aide told msnbc that it might receive a vote along with other GOP amendments as part of a deal to advance the unemployment bill. According to Roll Call, Majority Whip Dick Durbin is working to make sure that Democrats have the votes to defeat Ayotte's amendment if it comes to the floor. 

Immigrants who aren't authorized to work in the United States are encouraged to still file taxes using a personal identification number instead of a Social Security number. While they can't take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, they are allowed to claim a refundable child tax credit available to other Americans. A 2011 report by the Treasury Department's Inspector General found that 2.3 million such filers received $4.2 billion from child tax credits in 2010, with the average family claim totaling about $1,800. The IRS later clarified that immigrants were, in fact, eligible for the credits even if they lacked legal status. 

Republicans in Congress have tried repeatedly to change the law to block unauthorized immigrants from using the credit since the IG report's release. In the latest bid, Ayotte is offering an amendment aimed at, per her office's description, "stopping a scheme that currently allows illegal immigrants to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit--which currently costs taxpayers billions." The legislation, which has 14 Republican co-sponsors, would require filers to provide a Social Security number for at least one spouse in order to claim the credits. The money saved, about $20 billion over the next decade, would go towards offsetting the cost of the three-month unemployment extension. 

Democratic Senators, along with labor and immigration advocates, warn that the bill would not only affect immigrants without legal status, but a large number of American-born citizens as well. An estimated 4.5 million children with citizenship had at least one undocumented parent in 2010, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Resarch Center. By comparison, the same Pew report pegged the number of minors in America who lacked immigration status at 1 million. 

"Children who have nothing to do with [the unemployment bill], especially vulnerable children who come from very poor immigrant families, should not be punished so that someone could score political points with their right wing advocacy groups," Tefere Grebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, told reporters in a conference call on Monday. 

Ayotte and other Republicans supportive of the bill argue that the change is also necessary to combat fraud, citing a local news report in Indiana that claimed some undocumented immigrants had used fake dependents in order to claim the credit. But the amendment doesn't require more documentation to prove filers' children are real and live in the United States: it bars them from applying for the credit in the first place. 

"If the concern is fraud and that the credit is being claimed for kids who don’t even live in the household, that should be tackled head-on," Marshall Fitz, director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, told msnbc. "Instead they are suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater."