One of the frustrations of watching the new administration is its apparent inability to find funds — except from routine tax collections — to build the promised wall.
It’s estimated that it will cost $12-15 billion or more; the proposed FY 2018 budget includes $2.6 billion for the start of the process.
What’s needed is one strong political official, not necessarily a presidential appointee, who has the ear of the Treasury secretary and a supporting staff of a dozen or so career lawyers and IRS people. That person has a mission: Figure out how to fund the wall (and other immigration law enforcement measures) without dipping into tax funds provided by legal residents of the United States. I don’t mean sending the bill to Mexico. I mean simply tapping into the annual Treasury payments of multi-billions a year in tax refunds to illegal aliens that could be stopped by strokes of the executive pen. (It might involve a few more millions for IRS, but that would be a good bargain.)
No congressional approval is needed. No raids. No scenes at airports or at the border. Few if any regulatory changes.
What is called for is simplicity itself — stop sending money to people who are not here legally.
The problem is that people interested in immigration policy are not working in the Treasury, which appears to have no Trump appointees other than Secretary Steven Mnuchin, another Goldman Sachs alumnus who cannot be expected to know much about how illegal aliens use and misuse our tax systems. Meanwhile, the scattering of Trump-appointed immigration policy types working in other agencies have their hands overfull already without also tackling the massive financial resources suddenly available to this administration now in the hands of illegal aliens.
The new assistant to the Treasury secretary need be neither ex-Border Patrol nor an IRS auditor; he or she simply needs to have some savvy about how government works, and the will to prevent the Treasury from writing so many checks to illegals. While the concept of getting-illegals-to-pay-for-the-wall has not been widely discussed by policymakers, the basic research on the question of refunds for illegals and their dependents has been in place for many, many years.
The Center for Immigration Studies has been writing about these matters since 2002, the inspector general for tax administration at Treasury for almost as long, and then there is that one lone journalist in Indianapolis, whose work also goes back many years. That’s Bob Segall of WTHR-TV.
There are two very simple initial actions that Treasury can take (though it has already missed the opportunity to tap into most 2017 refunds). One is to change the policy that allows illegal aliens in the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) Program to receive up to $1,000 refunds for children who do not have Social Security numbers. Current policy, apparently set well below the level of an assistant IRS commissioner, is that refunds are available for those with an alternative Treasury number, the Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), which can be secured without proof of legal residence. SSNs, on the other hand, are issued only to those showing some proof of legal residence. Billions are lost each year this way.
A somewhat similar program, the Earned Income Tax Credit, requires a legit SSN for its refunds. Why not simply expand the EITC rules to cover ACTC?
The other simple move that would save billions in refunds each year is to not mail them out to people whose income tax documents show the use of an illegitimate SSN. Perhaps this policy is in place, though historically it never has been. I cannot get a clear picture of current IRS policy from that organization on this issue.
IRS, as an institution, has had no interest in helping to enforce the immigration law or even in cracking down on some misuses of the program by illegals to save money for the Treasury. It needs to be told what to do in this regard, but that takes both political will (at the right level of government) and assertive personnel to take on these issues; those elements are currently missing.
There are other government programs that could be tapped in similar ways that we have discussed in the past. If just a few of these suggestions were put into action, the United States would not have to worry about paying for a wall or any of the other badly needed enforcement enhancements.
David North, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, has over 40 years of immigration policy experience.