Monday, April 11, 2016

Tax Day is a Learning Opportunity

Photo by Chris Potter

This year, on April 18, most Americans will file their tax returns while most students may not even notice this deadline has come and gone. Yet tax day is a civic-learning opportunity for students. It can be the topic of a thoughtful discussion on why and who pays taxes, how much they pay, and what benefits are received (or expected to be received) in return. Tax day also lends itself as a time to talk about the contributions undocumented immigrants make to America while exploring the myth that the undocumented do not pay taxes.

That fact is despite their undocumented status, “at least 50 percent of undocumented immigrant households currently file income tax returns using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs),” according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). In addition, many more undocumented immigrants have taxes deducted from their paychecks, even if they do not file income tax returns. These taxes fund benefits, such as Social Security and Medicare, which undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive.

Undocumented immigrants also pay sales, income and property taxes. For example, undocumented immigrants pay sales tax every time they buy clothing, an appliance, gas, or food at a restaurant. ITEP reports that in 2013 for example, the average effective state and local tax rate of undocumented immigrants was 8 percent, compared to 5.4 percent for the top 1 percent of all taxpayers. This translated into $11.6 billion in state and local taxes paid by the undocumented community in 2013. Immigrants, regardless of status, also pay for a main source of public school funding through property taxes – even if they are renting.

Though undocumented immigrants can receive public schooling and emergency medical care, they are not eligible for most benefits they pay taxes towards such as food stamps or health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

You can view the estimated state and local taxes each state receives from undocumented immigrants on this interactive map.

Conversing with students about the economic contributions immigrants make in taxes extends the conversation beyond the usual, though important discussions around their contributions of cuisine, music, and art, and into a fuller understanding of how immigrants benefit our society.

Tax Day Activities and Resources

·        Start a Conversation. Find out what knowledge students have already about how taxes work, draw personal connections, and extend the conversation.
Ask students:
  • Do you have a budget? How do you earn money? How do you decide to spend it?

  • Does the government have a budget? How does it earn money? How does it decide to spend it?

  •  Do you think you pay taxes? If so, how?

  • Who should pay taxes? Who should receive tax and public benefits? Should everyone pay the same amount or should it vary according to income?

·        Have students use evidence to support their thinking. This brief fact sheet details the estimated billions of dollars undocumented immigrants pay in taxes, and how a pathway to permanent legal status would yield more tax revenue.

·        Empower yourself and others. Learn the facts about the ITIN number, its purposes and limitations, and how to apply.

Want to get more involved with our educational work by applying for our community grants, writing immigrant-themed book reviews, contributing to our blog posts or offering lessons learned in the classroom? Let us know about it! Email us at and follow us on Twitter @ThnkImmigration #teachimmigration

Register for our upcoming FREE webinar this Thursday, April 14 at 4:00pm EDT “Celebrating Día at School” co-hosted with LEE & LOW BOOKS where expert panelists will discuss how to create an effective Día de los Ninos/ Día de los Libros in your school. This webinar will be most beneficial for those teaching younger students in traditional and non-traditional classroom settings.

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