WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio this month filed a bill aimed at making it harder for nonresident aliens to claim a child tax credit. The effort drew little attention for good reason: Rubio's office did not publicize it.
But liberal groups and immigrant advocates noticed and are accusing the Florida Republican of hypocrisy, saying he is hurting innocent children at the same time he pushes a Dream Act alternative that seeks to help children who were brought to the United States illegally, as he says, "through no fault of their own."
"There is no way Sen. Rubio can logically square this proposal that puts low-income U.S.-citizen children in the crosshairs with his professed desire to provide 'humanitarian' relief to 'blameless' undocumented youth," reads a piece by the liberal Center for American Progress. "This attack on the child tax credit appears to be a calculated attempt by Sen. Rubio to demonstrate his commitment to 'legality' and his willingness to crack down on 'illegal immigrants.' But in his zeal to burnish his hardline bona fides with conservatives, he would actually take food off the tables of low-income U.S.-citizen kids who are, in every sense of the word, blameless. Even using a political calculator, adding Sen. Rubio's two proposals together equals hypocrisy."
Rubio has not yet released his Dream Act proposal, which aims to grant legal status to some children of illegal immigrants, and has drawn opposition from the far right, which views it as amnesty. His Responsible Child Tax Credit Eligibility Verification Act of 2012 comes in response to a government audit from last year that said the IRS allowed undocumented workers to collect $4.2 billion in tax credits.
People without Social Security numbers can seek the credit through individual taxpayer identification numbers. The audit confirmed fraudulent filings. Rubio's legislation addresses that by requiring "certain nonresident aliens to provide valid immigration documents to claim the refundable portion of the child tax credit."
Rubio's office dismissed the criticism as partisanship. A spokesman noted the legislation still allows noncitizens working here legally to claim the credit but they must provide documentation.
"Sens. Rubio, (John) Thune and others are sponsoring common-sense legislation to crackdown on fraud that costs taxpayers. We're still in the process of gathering sponsors," said Rubio spokesman Alex Conant. "Obviously some partisan groups are looking for any excuse to attack Sen. Rubio and they're confusing the issue here. We're continuing to develop Sen. Rubio's proposal to help high-achieving, undocumented children and hope to have bipartisan legislation soon."
Rubio's bill is not the first to address the problem. A bill filed by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has the same aim but would require people seeking the credit to have a valid Social Security card. Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid has opposed it.
The Center for American Progress contends Rubio's bill would hurt children and overstates the problem:
"The $4.2 billion in refundable credits that were issued in 2010 to more than 2 million ITIN filers represented about 15 percent of the total child tax credit refunds paid. Those same ITIN filers, however, also contributed more than $7 billion in federal taxes toward Medicare and Social Security, programs from which they will never recoup benefits.
In other words, morality aside, the U.S. Treasury and American taxpayers still come out ahead by granting child tax credits to low-income families with an undocumented tax filer."