Friday, May 09, 2008
Congress penalizes U.S. troops, legal U.S. residents in attempt to punish Undocumented immigrants.
When Congress passed an economic-stimulus package giving hefty rebates to most taxpayers, it tried to make sure that Undocumented immigrants didn't get any of the cash.
But in doing so lawmakers inadvertently penalized at least a million legal U.S. residents - and tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed overseas - simply because their spouses lack a Social Security number.
"Imagine an American soldier in Iraq whose foreign-born wife is waiting for an immigration petition to be approved and doesn't have a Social Security card. Now the couple can't even get a rebate," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose. "That is really stupid."
Others in the predicament include legal residents whose spouses are still overseas because of long immigration queues and hundreds of thousands of H-1B work visa holders in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
The scope of the problem is only now becoming clear as the government begins sending out rebate checks. The first checks were electronically deposited in bank accounts last week.
Because illegal immigrants don't have Social Security numbers and instead routinely use "tax identification numbers," Congress banned rebates for taxpayers who use the IRS-issued numbers.
If a married couple files jointly and one spouse doesn't have a Social Security number, the couple won't get the $1,200 checks that other couples will receive. They're also ineligible for the $300 rebate per child.
Many Armed Forces
members stationed overseas have foreign spouses who can't get Social Security numbers.
William Luong, stationed at a U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, said some of his fellow seamen resent that they've landed in the same category as illegal immigrants.
"They understand the reason they're getting the shaft," said Luong, 21, who is from the Los Angeles area. "But a lot are frustrated or angry about it."
More than 288,000 troops are stationed overseas, according to the Pentagon - not counting those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many live in places - Korea, Japan and Germany - where extended stays often result in marriages to locals.
The unintended situation developed after the House in late January passed the economic-stimulus legislation at the urging of President Bush. But anti-illegal immigration groups then lobbied the Senate to add the Social Security requirement, fearing that illegal immigrants would get their hands on the checks.
The Federation for American Immigrant Reform - whose members went on radio talk shows to bash the House version of the stimulus bill - has no apologies.
"No law was ever written that doesn't find someone falling through the cracks," said Ira Mehlman, a FAIR spokesman, who said he hoped government officials will come up with some way to help Armed Forces members.
But legal immigrants who are being denied rebates say they want some justice, too.
"If the government collects taxes from us, we should be able to get rebates given to other legal residents, it should be a level-playing field," said Parveen Kumar, an H-1B visa holder who lives in Sunnyvale.
Kumar moved to Silicon Valley from India with his wife three years ago. He now works as an engineer at Intelliswift Software in Fremont. But his wife, Anu, is on a H-4 "dependency visa" that doesn't allow her to work.
After he found out about the rebate law, he went to the Mountain View office of the Social Security Administration and asked if he could get a number for his wife. He was told no.
John Johnston, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration, confirmed on Wednesday that the agency's policy is not to issue Social Security cards simply for the purpose of issuing tax rebates.
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there are now between 600,000 and 800,000 H-1B visa holders in the United States. Exactly how many are married to spouses ineligible to work in this country is unclear.
Another group of immigrants - about a million nationwide - are non-citizen green-card holders who are already facing seven-year waits to get permission for their spouses to immigrate to their country.
"I've been in America for well over 20 years, and I consider myself an American," said Amir Nikpouri of Orland Park, a suburb of Chicago. "All I'm trying to do is obey the laws, but this one seems really unfair."
Nikpouri, 31, was married three years ago, but his wife won't be eligible to immigrate from Iran for a few more years.
"We are here legally and paying taxes and enjoying what a married family should be enjoying," said Aung Moe of San Jose, 33, a Burmese political refugee who works as an engineer at Applied Materials. His wife, Mon, is an electrical engineer who is forced to live separately from her husband in Singapore.
"Already we cannot be together, and now she cannot get a Social Security number," he said. "This needs to be fixed."