The Common Good

A New Low: Targeting American Children

Within the next couple of weeks the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070, which mandates racial profiling by police officers and deputizes them to act as an extension of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). 

Since the passage of SB 1070, states across the country have introduced copycat measures into their state legislatures. Chief among them was Alabama’s HB 658—the most draconian measure of them all. The crafters of HB 658 intentionally pushed immigrants to the point where life was so miserable in their state that they chose to “self-deport.”

This week our nation is witnessing a new level of low. Even as we await the Supreme Court’s ruling on states’ rights to pass their own immigration laws, some Senate Republicans are arguing for two sets of federal legislation even worse than the state bills. These new federal bills aim to take money and food from children—American children.

Child Tax Credit and the Alternative Child Tax Credit 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) have introduced S.3083 and S.577, respectively. Both bills are focused on the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Alternative Child Tax Credit (ACTC)

For many, this technical language makes their eyes glaze over. I get it. My eyes got glassy when I first heard about this, too. If you find your eyelids drooping, do a few jumping jacks and keep reading because this is crazy important. 

Get this: In one fell swoop Rubio’s and Vitter’s Senate bills would deny access to CTC and ACTC for as many as 3 million tax-paying families with American-citizen children, according to May 2012 reports issued by the National Immigration Law Center.

They claim they are cutting down on fraud. For example, Sen. Vitter says unauthorized immigrants pay no taxes. Consequently, they are fraudulently collecting tax benefits from U.S. Tax payers. 

You know the old adage, “Only two things in life are guaranteed; death and taxes.” Well, that goes for undocumented workers, too. The federal government isn’t stupid. If people are working in the U.S., the government isn’t going to let a tiny technicality like immigration status get in the way of its ability to collect revenue. So, every single day undocumented workers are compelled by the federal government to pay federal income taxes and federal payroll taxes. These workers aren’t eligible for a Social Security Number so the government issues them special IDs called Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). In 2010, ITIN tax returns raked in more than $9 billion in payroll taxes alone, according to a May 2012 report issued by the National Immigration Law Center.

These workers are paying into our system, but ITINs do not make these workers eligible to receive benefits from our system for themselves. Nor do ITINs change the workers’ immigration status. Yet, many of these workers have children—children who are documented American citizens. While the parents are ineligible for benefits of citizenship, the law provides a way for these American-citizen children to collect benefits that are rightfully theirs. The Child Tax Credit and Alternative Child Tax Credit allow undocumented parents to legally collect benefits for the sake of their citizen children. 

And here’s the thing: Vitter and Rubio’s proposals would take on average $1,800 per year out of the pockets of poor families earning $21,000 per year, according to a statement by Wendy Cervantes of First Focus during a May teleconference. In the scope of America’s current budget craziness, these are pennies in an ocean, but for the children who receive the benefit it can mean the difference between having food to eat or not.

The Farm Bill and Food Stamps

This week the Senate started deliberations over the Farm Bill. One the most significant consumer benefits of the Farm Bill is SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as Food Stamps. 

Here’s what you need to know in a nutshell: 

  • The senate is planning to vote on the farm bill next week.
  • Just like the Child Tax Credit, only U.S citizens are eligible for SNAP nutritional benefits.
  • Just like the Child Tax Credit, the law provides a way for undocumented parents of American-citizen children to receive the benefit for the sake of their children.
  • Just like the ITIN, SNAP is a huge boost to our economy. Every single dollar allocated for SNAP recipients goes directly back into local economies as mothers and fathers buy food for their children from local businesses across the country. 
  • For that reason, every $1 the government allocates for the benefit, it receives $1.71.
  • Just like Vitter and Rubio, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is trying to block American-citizen children from receiving this benefit designed to keep them from going hungry.
  • Just like the Child Tax Credit, SNAP benefits are pennies in the ocean in light of America’s current budget deficit. The average family of four received $496/month in 2010.
  • What’s worse, Sessions is trying to cut $4.3 billion dollars from the SNAP program all together.

A New Low

All of these measures combined hit a new low. Legislators have turned their eyes toward a vulnerable constituency—children—especially the American-citizen children of undocumented immigrants; after all, they have absolutely no vote.

Friends, no matter what political party we claim, Jesus calls us to protect the little ones. It is time for Jesus followers on both sides of the aisle to wake up, stand up, and speak up! It is time to join the prophet Isaiah who proclaimed:

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless. 

And it is time for our legislators—the ones who speak so eloquently about their faith in Jesus—to actually follow Jesus:

“Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.”

Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.

Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

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