GOP senators seek to deny child tax credit to undocumented immigrants

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    Image of Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is proposing an amendment to prohibit undocumented immigrants from getting child tax credit.

    Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) announces her proposed amendment during a news conference on unemployment and military pension cuts on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    A handful of Republican senators are offering an amendment to prohibit undocumented immigrants from being eligible for the refundable Additional Child Tax Credit.

    They say the proposal, offered by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), would pay for the three-month extension of the expired unemployment benefits as well as restore military pension cuts made in late December. If approved on the Senate floor, the amendment would be added to the Unemployment Insurance Extension Act.

    “We have a proposal that not only [fixes the military pension issue,] but pays for the unemployment insurance extension and helps the deficit situation,” Ayotte said at a press conference Wednesday. “Let’s vote on this, let’s solve this and let’s move forward with a common sense proposal.”

    Ayotte is one of the six Republicans who joined Democrats this week in voting to move forward with the Unemployment Insurance Extension Act.

    Currently, undocumented immigrants are able to file federal income tax returns and claim child tax credit using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Ayotte’s amendment, which has six Republican cosponsors, would require anyone filing taxes to have Social Security numbers in order to qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit.

    The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates this change to the U.S. tax code would save approximately $20 billion over 10 years. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration previously estimated that millions of people without a valid Social Security number received a total of $4.2 billion in child tax credits in 2010.

    Amendment targets millions of ‘vulnerable children’

    Ayotte’s amendment is receiving opposition from pro-children organizations and immigrant rights groups.

    First Focus Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley released a statement Wednesday expressing his opposition. He said the amendment comes at a time “when child poverty is already at the highest level in a generation.”

    “This proposal targets millions of the most vulnerable children in America and threatens to drive even more children into poverty,” Lesley stated. “And our message to members of Congress: find a smarter solution, and don’t cut kids.”

    The First Focus Campaign previously said that denying the Additional Child Tax Credit to children whose parents file federal income tax returns using an ITIN number would hurt more than 5.5 million children, 4.5 million of whom are U.S. citizens. The group also said the child tax credit has proven effective in protecting children from poverty.

    The National Immigration Law Center also opposes Ayotte’s amendment. Don Lyster, director of the Washington, D.C., office of the NILC, said senators supporting this amendment “cynically pit unemployed and veterans against kids.”

    “This is a tragic irony — that the senators would commemorate the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty by creating this false choice and waging war against millions of children in hardworking, taxpaying families,” Lyster said.

    “Congress should do everything it can to ensure that people who are out of work, our courageous veterans, and the children who are our future are afforded the opportunity to live with basic dignity,” he added. “Pitting these groups against each other is not a solution but an unscrupulous exploitation of the most vulnerable in our society.” 

    Amendment’s fate in the Senate is uncertain

    It’s unclear whether Ayotte’s amendment will pick up enough support to make it to the Senate floor for a vote.

    No Democrat has signed up as cosponsors of the proposal. Instead, a few Democrats, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), have come out against it.

    At the same time, Ayotte’s amendment has picked up support from Republicans like Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and one of the six Republicans cosponsoring the amendment.

    “This is a much-needed amendment that generates the money needed to pay for a three-month extension of unemployment insurance and to protect our military from cuts to their retirement pay,” Isakson said at Tuesday’s press conference with Ayotte.

    “There’s only one reason Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wouldn’t let this amendment come to the floor, and that’s if he wants a problem rather than a solution,” he added.

    Reid hasn’t said whether he will allow a vote on Ayotte’s amendment. However, he said on the Senate floor on Wednesday that he is “opposed to offsetting the cost of emergency unemployment benefits,” which indicates bad news for those supporting Ayotte’s amendment.

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