The IRS created a nine-digit Individual Tax Identification Number in 1996 for foreigners who don’t have Social Security numbers but need to file taxes in the U.S. But it is increasingly used by undocumented workers to file taxes, apply for credit, get bank accounts or even buy a home.

The IRS issued 1.5 million ITINs in 2006 – a 30 percent increase from the previous year. To obtain one, a person needs to submit to the IRS an application and a document that serves as proof of identity, such as a visa or driver’s license. All told, the tax liability of ITIN filers between 1996 and 2003 was $50 billion. The agency has no way to track how many were immigrants, but it’s widely believed most people using ITINS are in the United States illegally.

To Ben Johnson, director of the Immigration Policy Center at the nonpartisan American Immigration Law Foundation, the widespread use of tax ID numbers is another sign that the immigration system is broken.

“The U.S. economy hangs a huge ‘help wanted’ sign at the border, and they come to work, not to hide,” he said. “A lot of people struggle with the idea they’re here without permission, and want to find a way to operate legitimately, like a normal hardworking person.”

Judging by the crowded waiting room at Esteban Ramirez’s modest tax preparation office in Richmond, where a television blared Spanish-language soap operas, it’s clear undocumented immigrants are growing increasingly comfortable around a Form 1040.

Some are interested in getting refunds, like the approximately 80 percent of tax filers who get them each year. Although ITIN users don’t qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which could give a break to an American earning in the same bracket, they can get other tax credits, and can use ITINs to claim dependents in Mexico.

At the end of his session with Ramirez, 18-year-old Diaz found he would have to pay, as he’d expected.

The $800 payment is steep, he said. But if it helps him to build a lawful life in the United States – a life he hopes will include his own janitorial business, and in the future, college – it’s worth it.

“It’s better to stay on the right side of the law,” he said.

26 Thoughts to “The IRS provides Tax Identification Numbers to undocumented workers”

  1. Marie

    Yes, this has been going on for years and one can get a PIN number to pay Social Security taxes as well. Many do but will never collect. As stated above many believe this this is their way to legalization and citizenship. They do not expect to receive tax breaks or Social Security benfits. As I was told by an undocumented immigrant. “This is the ticket I signed when I came here. I just want a better life for my children and I am willing to pay what ever I have to.”

  2. Elena did you post this in response to my complaint on the “Bustamante Not Coming” thread?

    I feel honored (= Thank you.

  3. Elena

    Yes, WHWN! I can take a hint 🙂

  4. Here is an abstract for an incredibly thorough academic study that debunks the “dem illegals don’t pay taxes” myth:

    And here is how you can download the entire document:

    Don’t feel bad if you were under the wrong impression about this, folks. Many Americans assume that things that are said on “news” programs like Lou Dobbs are vetted, fact checked, etc. I used to think the same thing.

    It’s good to take a position on an issue. It’s okay to take a position on an issue before learning all the facts. But it’s NOT OKAY to take a position on an issue without learning all the facts, and then hold to that position when confronted with the facts, discounting any new information that challenges that position.

    For those of you who still argue that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes and are a “drain” on our social services, you are in the latter category. Please read this report and many others that refute the inaccurate but widely propagated F.A.I.R. / Lou Dobbs / Anti-Immigrant talking points.

  5. Seems to kill the “parasite/vermin” argument…. SOOOOOoooo what’s the next excuse that the Illegal Immigrants are responsible for the destruction of the United States of America?

    “Because I can’t understand what they’re talkin?”

    “Because they look stupid?”

    “Because they smell like poo?”

    “Because they’re doodoo head meanies?”

    “Because I said so?”

  6. You hear a lot of talk about the ITIN and completing Form 1040 from the Spanish language media between February and April so a lot of people know about this. I’ve met fellows who are very careful to complete Form W-4 so as to have the right amount of wages withheld, and then they’re diligent in filing Form 1040. If there’s ever any chance of amnesty, they want to be able to document that they’ve been here and have been paying taxes.

  7. LuckyDuck

    WHWN, its a two way street…there are studies that show the opposite and that leads to the confusion. I don’t think one or two studies showing one side is the answer to either side’s argument.

    From your post:
    “It’s good to take a position on an issue. It’s okay to take a position on an issue before learning all the facts. But it’s NOT OKAY to take a position on an issue without learning all the facts, and then hold to that position when confronted with the facts, discounting any new information that challenges that position.”

    There are studies that demonstrate “facts” on both sides of the debate. Here is but one example that shows a drain. I am not saying I completely agree with this study or yours, but to declare the debate over as your post indicates is something I don’t agree with.

    Yes, some undocumented or illegal aliens file income taxes and some do not (I hardly thing day laborers receive a form 1040EZ).

    Yes, some undocumented or illegal families own their homes and pay property taxes. But some rent their homes and may have multiple families sending children to local schools when the schools are merely collecting from one house for the cost of one family.

    The vast majority of illegal or undocumented aliens in our area are not highly educated and are low skilled. This is the population (even here in America) that tends not to have medical insurance coverage. So they are more apt to use the emergency rooms as primary care. Thus driving up the costs to everyone else.

    My point is that the debate has points on both sides and one or two studies can be refuted with one or two studies or arguments, so your declaration of the debate being settled or answered on the pro illegal immigration benefit side is, well, debatable.

  8. Mando


    ” But it’s NOT OKAY to take a position on an issue without learning all the facts, and then hold to that position when confronted with the facts, discounting any new information that challenges that position.”

    Please re-read and take your own advice.

    One study does not constitute “all the facts”.

  9. Rick Bentley

    They do pay less taxes you know. Even if only by virtue of cramming so many more people into a house than Americans do, they pay a lot less tax and that is why where they go, standard of living decreases.

  10. Rick Bentley

    Meanwhile the fact that our government facilitates this with a wink and a nod makes me sick and is something I won’t forgive or forget.

    The rules in America are upheld if and only if they make the rich richer.

  11. stw

    Mando, 12. June 2008, 14:42


  12. Great, you boys (I assume boys) are making some progress. I had a feeling it would make you made that the Federal government facilitates undocumented workers contributing to our economy. Disapprove of the government. Work to fix a broken system. But don’t give in to hate. That’s all we’re asking of you.

    See? Information is the antidote to hate.

  13. Lucky Duck, I took a look at your “study.” It was prepared by the Center for Immigration Studies another front group founded by John Tanton, the self-acknowledged white supremacist who founded F.A.I.R.

    We all have to decide between information and misinformation. My argument is that misinformation leads to hate; while information is the antidote to hate.

    I think the impact of the Anti-Immigrant Lobby’s visit to Prince William County speaks for itself. And, when people who post misinformation from outfits like Center for Immigration Studies also come across sounding hateful from time to time, it simply proves my point.

  14. Elena

    Why is it WHWN, that we must always refute one main source of misinformation……FAIR. Are they the nexus for every study that “proves” why illegal immigrants are so heinous to American society?

    Lucky Duck,
    There is a debate to be had, for sure, but we have to determine who is formulating the discussion and FAIR is completely untrustworthy in my opinion.

  15. Lucky Duck

    Elena and WHWN, I completely agree that there is to be a debate. If you notice, I said I didn’t completely support either study. I simply googled “illegal immigration cost” and hundreds of hits came up. That was one of the first that was listed. That is my point..there are two sides. WHWN presented a vaild point of benefits and pronounced the debate over with and that it what I disagreed with. But there are also drains and costs of illegal immigration to the rest of society and those concerns are vaild too. I do not and never have supported FAIR, I am angry with what they did with our County. But there are two sides to the argument and one person declaring mission accomplished is wrong – ask George Bush.

    WHWN, nobody is mad, at least I am not. I am simply saying you cannot present your facts from a pro illegal viewpoint and consider the problem solved.

  16. Valley Girl

    The truth is there are very few reiliable studies regarding the cost of illegal immigration because we still don’t even have reliable numbers to use as a basis. We rely on estimates that leave room for interpretation one way or another. And on top of that there are very few studies that are comprehensive, that examine the totality of factors that would allow us to come up with a net cost or benefit. Some of the best studies I have seen show that the burdens and benefits are not equally distributed between local, state and federal government, which leaves room for create and/or lazy interpretations. I would never trust an organization such as FAIR to be capable of the kind of objectivity required to conduct such studies. In the end, the situation is not “good” for anyone. Instead of dwelling on the costs lets think about resolving the situation, either by removal (which is logistically impossible), or by some kind of earned legal status, funded largely by the same fees that the undocumented (otherwise in good standing) woudl be required to pay to adjust their status. That is not amnesty, by the way, no matter how people twist the definition.

  17. Elena

    Lucky Duck,
    I do not discount the reality that certain localities bear more responsibilities than others regarding illegal immigration. But if there is an overall benefit to the country, which I believe there is, it is incumbent upon our Federal Government to give additional assistance to those places which are absorbing more of the cost via schools and hopsitals. I have referenced the Council on Foreign Relations, a non partisan organization, in existence for decades, whose contributors support this analysis with, what I believe, is very credible research.

  18. Lucky Duck

    I believe that our area is one of those localities that bear more responsibilty for illegal immigration than others and we have received nothing – not a cent – from Federal or State governments. So we have more costs associated with illegal immigration than other areas. So any benefits to this area – and I do believe there are some – must be balanced against the social costs that accompany such an influx. Such things as school crowding, health clinics (there are two different ones supported by the County (at least in part) and one is being discontinued after July 1st), Property Code enforcement, the ADC’s 287(G) program as well as our own infamous Resolution costs. Millions of dollars borne by the taxpayers of this County. I sincerely believe that if the federal government did its party, we’d have no resolution and a more peacefully integrated community without most of these additional expenses. So we have both sides of the coin while other areas do not and we have to pay the bill. That’s what concerns me.

  19. Elena

    You and I agree Lucky Duck 🙂

  20. Lucky Duck


  21. The tragedy is that the Federal government was trying to do it’s part. But the McCain/Kennedy Immigration reform bill was scuttled by the same Washington DC Anti-Immigrant Lobbying Firm that mastermined the Duecaster Disaster in Prince William County.

    You may like what we have become. You may enjoy the future we face. Perhaps, as some have said, empty houses, plummeting property values, empty store fronts, a sinking economy unable to compete with neighboring counties, a shameful reputation around the region and the country … perhaps all of those things are worth the trade off: less “illegal” looking people in the neighborhoods, schools, hospitals etc.

    Whether you like this situation or not, it was John Tanton, the Pioneer Fund, and F.A.I.R. who brought it to us.

    And, it was John Tanton, the Pioneer Fund, and F.A.I.R. who made it all possible, using teh very same tactics to stop the McCain/Kennedy bill from passing.

    So all those of you who were once so convinced that the Duecaster Disaster was so necessary and now wonder if the costs outweigh the benefits … now ask yourself this question: A year ago, weren’t you JUST as convinced that McCain’s “amnesty bill” was such a bad idea? President Bush tried to explain it to you but you went with F.A.I.R.’s analysis instead, and you celebrated the continuation of our broken system.

    Now that you see that the Duecaster Disaster was perhaps not the best thing for Prince William County. Perhaps you might consider whether the Anti-Immigrant Lobby’s agenda might be equally bad for the nation.

  22. Elena

    If PWC is the microcysm for immigration change, our example is a failed example for sure.

  23. Censored bybvbl

    WHWN is right in saying that people who are crying the loudest while using FAIR’s analysis of the costs localities bear are also the same people who -for the most part – objected to immigration reform. And they are generally the people most likely to oppose any tax increase including any federal increases which might include benefits that would trickle down to the localities. Even Michael Chertoff recognizes the importance of immigration reform…and not just to build fences.

  24. The focus of the Anti-Immigrant Lobby is so minute and myopic, it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. In sum, their purpose is to find reasons to hate, find reasons to blame, and find reasons to block solutions to problems that can easily be fixed.

    The problem for them is, to fix these problems, we have to acknowledge the basic humanity of all people, regardless of skin color, national origin, religion, or native tongue. And, perhaps more difficult for all of us, we have to let go of the idea that “mostly Caucasian” is one of the Founding principles or markers of what defines The United States.

    Let’s not forget, the genesis of F.A.I.R. and all its front groups and tributaries was the 1965 Immigration act that tore down quotas intended to preserve the Caucasian majority. That is the underlying purpose of the three goals I listed above: find reasons to hate, find reasons to blame, and block solutions.

    The first two work toward their goal. The third prevents the only solution, which is the opposite of their goal. The path to citizenship policy that is supported by the current President, as well as by BOTH the GOP and the Democratic nominees for President, is the only path we can take as a country. All the reasons to hate and all the reasons to blame are mere stall tactics. When President McCain, or President Obama, brings immigration reform back on the table, the Anti-Immigrant Lobby will be out of options.

    They can succeed from the Union, or they can learn to live in the diverse, inclusive, and mutli-ethnic society so many parts of America have already embraced.

  25. elvis

    Valley Girl,

    agreed, all the studies about illegal immigration (and even legal immigration) are slanted one way or another. we’ll leave it to this blog to point out all the pro-illegal immigration articles. Try as I might, I cannot swing myself around to think about this blog as anything other than pro-illegal immigration; sob stories about illegal immigrants being deported, tax id numbers, illegals paying taxes, etc. all just really heart breaking stories but the undertone of all these articles is people who have broken the law. Try to illegal immigrate to mexico and find out how fast you get locked up and thrown in a mexican jail. It’s not pretty down there and they have not “pro-illegal immigrant” movement to advocate for you.

    I stopped coming here but occasionally, as this blog has drifted so far to the left as to be unrealistic now. the valedictorian and boy scout article did it for me I’ve come to find the members of this blog dont want anything to do with reform, for them it’s their way or the highway. add in the support for 9500 liberty and you have a sure advocate for the no borders crowd. I cannot think of anything more “anti-american” than people who advocate open borders and this blog certain qualifies for advocates. as an american it makes me puke.

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