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Identity theft an overlooked wrinkle of illegal immigration

According to a recent Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration audit, the labor market includes a shocking 1.4 million employed illegal aliens who in 2015 used falsified or stolen Social Security numbers to get hired. Not only have the illegal immigrants committed a crime by unlawfully entering the United States, but identity theft through fraudulent Social Security number misuse is a felony.

Identity theft, a little discussed criminal component of illegal immigration, creates major headaches for the citizens and legal permanent residents who must explain to the IRS why their tax filings omitted income they never earned.

Inspector General J. Russell George understated the inconvenience identity theft creates for innocent taxpayers when he said in a statement that it represents a “significant burden.” The Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) significantly complicates the problem. The ITIN was created for those who don’t have – and aren’t eligible for – a Social Security number. It is used by aliens who of course are ineligible for Social Security numbers. But their W-2 forms submitted to employers include valid Social Security numbers – that belong to someone else.

The Washington Times reported that 87 percent of online tax submissions with an ITIN showed income associated with a Social Security number which could not possibly belong to the filer. ITIN-based taxes filed using the old-fashioned paper method reflected slightly less, but still significant, fraud of about 50 percent.

The tax fraud illegal immigrants perpetrate is a longstanding problem that has an easy solution. But as with so many other immigration-related problems, the political will to bring about change is nonexistent. First, and most obviously, staunch border security supplemented by interior workplace enforcement would go a long way. Fewer illegal immigrants means less crime.

Second, during the period when the border is being secured, and while federal immigration agents are vigorously monitoring workplace violations, end the ITIN whose major purpose has come to be facilitating alien employment. Citizens and legal residents don’t need ITINs; they have Social Security numbers. About a decade ago, mortgage brokers eagerly accepted ITINs as qualifying documentation to grant illegal immigrants home loans. The under-employed aliens who couldn’t make the payments were one factor in the mortgage meltdown that precipitated the global Great Recession.

Third, a no-brainer, let the IRS communicate with the Department of Homeland Security to check which Social Security numbers may have been used by illegal aliens. Barring the IRS from exchanging information with DHS, the current practice, guarantees that identity theft will continue.

Although the IRS insisted in its official response to the Inspector General’s findings that it takes identity theft “very seriously,” the agency showed little enthusiasm for meaningful reform. The IRS said that it had just completed a pilot program designed to notify identity fraud victims that they’ve been scammed. Good luck. A pilot program to track overseas visitors and workers’ entry and exist passed Congress 30 years ago, but still hasn’t been implemented.

In a final cop out, the IRS’s wage and investment division commissioner, Kenneth C. Corbin, said that his agency doesn’t have sufficient funding to more vigorously pursue illegal alien tax frauds, a disappointing confirmation of the government’s continuing willingness to protect illegal immigrants at the expense of working, taxpaying Americans.

— Joe Guzzardi

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