New York Times Blog
December 13, 2010
by Julia Preston
The Republican who is expected to lead the main subcommittee on immigration in the House of Representatives in the new congress next year said on Monday that he will push for a bill that would cancel employers’ tax deductions for wages of workers who are illegal immigrants.
In an interview, Representative Steve King of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration in the current congress, said his priority as chairman would be to pass a bill he introduced last year that would also require the Internal Revenue Service to share information with the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration about the immigration status of workers.
Mr. King said his measure would increase pressure on employers to fire unauthorized immigrant workers by increasing their cost. He estimated that if employers were not able to claim tax deductions for those workers’ wages and benefits, an unauthorized immigrant making $10 an hour would cost the employer the equivalent of $16 an hour.
Mr. King said his measure would be a “velvet glove” that would leave it up to employers to fire unauthorized workers. “That opens up lots of jobs for Americans,” he said.
The proposal would break down a major privacy firewall that protects tax information from scrutiny by Homeland Security authorities. Millions of authorized immigrants in the workforce have payroll taxes deducted and file tax returns using a taxpayer number issued by the I.R.S., which is not routinely shared with immigration agencies.
Mr. King’s strategy would be a sharp departure from the outgoing Democratic-controlled House, which last week passed a bill known as the Dream Act. Mr. King was a leading opponent of that bill, which would open a path to legal status for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant students if they attend college or serve in the military.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has said he plans to bring up the House version of the student bill for a vote before the end of the lame-duck session. Although it gained some momentum from the House action, its chances for Senate passage appear slim. Mr. King said that if the bills fails there, “it is dead.”
Mr. King, who cautioned that he has not been formally named chairman of the sub-committee, said he also hoped to conduct a review of the Obama administration’s spending on border enforcement, and perhaps seek new construction of physical fence barriers to stop illegal border-crossers. “Build it until they stop going around the end – that would be my standard,” Mr. King said.
On a call with reporters on Monday, several leading immigration scholars said the young immigrants who are eligible for legal status under the student bill, some of whom are already in college, would be forced into a shadow existence if it fails. The researchers were among 280 immigration scholars who signed a letter of support for the bill.
“It would be a complete waste of the taxpayer money we have spent to this point to educate them,” said Douglas Massey, a sociology professor at Princeton who studies Mexican migration. “Just when they are about to come on to the labor market to take up their jobs, we seem to be throwing that investment all away. And it means incredible hardship for them. The only place they can go is into the underground economy.”