Some conservatives in the Senate want to make life more difficult for families like mine in the name of "fiscal responsibility." They want to financially squeeze already struggling low-wage workers and don't seem to mind undermining the wellbeing of millions of children, including immigrants. Their suggestion is not only unfair, it's immoral.
At issue is a proposal by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to take away the refundable Child Tax Credit that helps millions of children, including the children of taxpaying immigrant workers in low-wage jobs. Ayotte wants to use the savings from denying the tax credit to these families to restore veterans' retirement benefits - essentially, robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The Senate should block this mean-spirited measure. Restore veterans' benefits, but certainly not at the expense of children whose families are also struggling. Immigrants in low-wage jobs share the dreams of other Americans--to provide for their families as best they can. The Child Tax Credit is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in American history and it's helped countless children grow up healthy and educated.
Senator Ayotte has gained traction in some quarters with her assertion that her proposal would eliminate fraud in the program -- that some of the children who have qualified for the tax credit do not exist, do not live in the country, or are undocumented. The argument is misleading on all counts.
First, most of the five million children who would be affected by her plan are U.S. citizens, while others are "little Dreamers," young children who grew up to this country, Under existing tax laws, these families may legally apply for the child tax credit if they qualify financially.
There is no fraud being committed, no law being broken, no loophole being exploited. Immigrants, regardless of their status, are required to pay taxes and - as determined by the IRS - are eligible to claim the Child Tax Credit for their children.
In my years of working at the intersection of immigration policy and advocacy, I have helped undocumented workers obtain tax identification numbers so they can pay taxes and establish a solid employment history. They pay more taxes each year than they get back in services, supporting the social compact that includes using tax dollars to fund programs like unemployment insurance, veterans benefits, food stamps and other needs, especially in times of economic crisis.
Like other Americans, immigrants contribute and participate in our country's society, economy, and workforce. They want to be a vital part of the United States and the freedom that promises justice for all.
Denying eligible children access to this critical and successful program to fight poverty is not the answer for rooting out fraud. Ayotte and her allies can easily find fraud or save taxpayers money by closing the giant loopholes in the corporate tax system.
Furthermore, the senator's plan will damage the chances of kids living in poverty to succeed.
Too many Republicans keep looking for any excuse to advance anti-immigrant legislation to score political points with their conservative base and, often, with hopes that if they erect enough obstacles in our lives, we will go away. Don't count on it.
United We Dream (UWD), which I helped found with support from the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), got its start by pushing for opportunities for immigrant youth. From a small number, we now have 52 affiliates in 25 states. Though most of us cannot vote, we are civically engaged and educate voters on how politicians have stood with us or against us.
Sen. Ayotte cannot have it both ways -- voting for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship and then turning around and offering legislation that would attack poor immigrant children.
To Sen. Ayotte, we offer this reminder: In many ways, we are you. Our country's history shows that working families who have the tools needed to succeed and move forward together will build a stronger, better America. Cutting the Child Tax Credit would hurt more than immigrant families; it would undermine our national values and future. It's time to stop playing political games with immigrants' lives and instead focus on moving our nation forward.
Follow Cristina Jiménez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/UWDCristina