Archive for November, 2012

The GOP, Immigration, and Simplification

November 28, 2012

This morning, as I started waking up, I listened to the news on my clock radio, and heard some Republican politicians talking about their latest stance on immigration. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) started by saying, “Latino voters aren’t going to listen to anything we say if they think we want to deport their grandmothers.” So far so good, I thought. “So we need to catch their attention.” Then some other GOP pol said something like, “But on the other hand, the DREAM Act doesn’t work for us, because why would we want to provide a path to citizenship to a bunch of people who won’t vote for us anyway?” Huh? I wondered. “So okay, what we want to offer young people who were brought to the US illegally before they were old enough to know better is legalization, not citizenship.” Legalization, I mused. So okay, they get to go to college or join the Army without being deported, and then…? And then…?

When I was brushing my teeth, I finally figured out the “and then.” At best, they get to be resident aliens for the rest of their lives. They can live here, work here, maybe even go back to the Old Country for an occasional visit and come back here, and, oh yeah, pay taxes. But they can’t vote. What did the Founding Fathers call that? Oh right, taxation without representation. And what else did they call it? Oh yeah, tyranny. The same deal, actually, that Puerto Ricans and DC residents get. Good enough for Latinos and African Americans, I guess.

At times like this, my Latina blood boils. Fortunately, I don’t have much of it, so my average blood temperature is still pretty close to normal. But ICE (formerly INS, colloquially la migra) is my least favorite bureaucracy, second only to the currently-inactive Selective Service. The late Mr. Wired and I used to have serious arguments about this. “My grandparents all came to the US legally,” he would say. “So why can’t these other guys?” I would diplomatically refrain from pointing out that all it took to be a legal immigrant to the US in our grandparents’ day was not having TB, syphilis, a criminal record, or a dark skin. Today it takes volumes of law and regulation which, even after forty years of practicing law, I do not feel qualified even to summarize, much less practice (or explain to Mr. Wired.) I did occasionally point out that INS deprived my paternal grandmother of her citizenship because she married a Brit, and tried to deprive my mother of her citizenship because she had not spent enough of her “formative years” in the US after being born to American parents in Cuba (while her father was on duty in the US Army.) So for me, this is kind of personal.

Senator Rubio and his buddy (whose name I was too drowsy to learn at the time) have not thought this through. Senator Rubio’s grandmother, being Cuban, a good anti-communist, and a dependable Republican voter, is probably safe from deportation no matter what. But the majority of Latino voters in the US, who are of Mexican descent, and generally vote Democratic, will continue to vote Democratic as long as this is what the Republicans have to offer their friends and families.

In the meantime, the Republicans are obsessing about “simplifying” the tax code (more about this in a minute.) What would it hurt to simplify the immigration code, which is roughly the same size and costs at least as much for the citizens upon whom it is enforced?

Let’s talk about “simplification.” As it pertains to taxes, I mean. The simplest tax code is the code of the Old West: Your money or your life. Anything more is technicalities. Using that as a tax code, of course, would obscure the distinction between the IRS and IRA or other terrorist organizations. So we have to at least complicate the matter enough to specify how much of the worker’s money the government will take in exchange for letting her walk the streets and do her job. That’s the tax rate. The Flat Tax advocates say there should just be one rate, for everybody, and no exemptions or deductions. Twenty (or whatever) per cent of Bill Gates’ billions and twenty per cent of the change in the panhandler’s cup.

Some of us (most of us, probably) think that’s still a bit too simple. But in fact, there are ways to make it simpler, short of literal highway robbery. A flat amount for everyone living in the good old USA, for instance. Calculating percentages is hard (as Barbie would say.) Just take the first three thousand (or whatever) dollars from everybody’s income. But what about people who don’t have three thousand dollars? Or who wouldn’t have anything left after paying the three thou? The obvious solution is to revert to the IRA approach, and have any such useless wastrels taken out and shot. Anything we do with the tax code that is more complex than that is going to be considered “loopholes” by somebody. Personal exemptions for dependents? Deductions for medical expenses, mortgage interest, and donations to charity? Why on earth is it the job of the government to encourage having kids, buying homes, supporting churches, and going to the doctor? Either people are willing to do stuff like that on their own dime, or we can accept a society of childless apartment-renting sickly geezers with no charities to ease their lives. That’s the price of freedom.

That won’t completely simplify the tax code, by the way. Not as long as more and more people are starting their own businesses or contracting out their services rather than being plain vanilla W-2 employees. When you run your own business, either full-time or on the side, you have to report your business income, usually on a Schedule C. You want simplicity? You won’t find it on a Schedule C (or the various attached worksheets, subject to the various regulations governing small and large businesses and what they have to report as income and what they can “adjust” as a legitimate cost of earning that income. In fact, you can get in serious trouble with the taxman just for defining your source of income in a way he considers dishonest, even if all your numbers are completely accurate. Politicians who report income received as bribes, but call it “consultation fees,” for instance. Anyway, so far as I know, the Republican party is not advocating “simplifying” the Schedule C. Imagine the reaction of the US Chamber of Commerce if they did.

I don’t have any recommendations for simplifying the tax code, which is occasionally a part of my practice. I can manage with what we’ve got, especially given the software currently available to help. But my vote for the best simplified version of the Immigration and Naturalization Act would be what Emma Lazarus wrote for the pediment of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor…” and so on.
Simplify, simplify.

Red Emma