A 36-year-old woman was working on her taxes with a tax preparer Friday morning when a green box popped up on the computer screen: "Taxpayer's Social Security number is not valid."
This wasn't a surprise. The woman was an undocumented housekeeper from El Salvador who had come to file her tax returns at Casa de Maryland, which hosts two federally subsidized tax centers that help low-income workers file their taxes for free.
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So far this year, the group has helped 198 unauthorized immigrants file their taxes. While the woman and her tax preparer, Earvin Gonzalez, worked, about a dozen immigrants clutched folders full of receipts and tax paperwork and waited patiently in line for their turn.
Unauthorized workers aren't eligible for benefits like the earned income tax credit — which is what the green box on the screen was warning Gonzalez about. Nor can they get Social Security or Medicare. But the IRS still wants unauthorized immigrants to file their taxes, and many of them do. The best estimates from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, DC, think tank, suggest about half of undocumented workers in the United States pay income taxes.
Filing taxes helps immigrants create a paper trail to show when they entered the country and how long they've been contributing tax dollars. Many are hoping it will help them get legal status one day. That has happened in past reform efforts, and one of the first requirements is usually to prove that a person has been paying taxes. That was the case for the undocumented youth granted temporary work permits under President Obama's