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by Kate Kooyman
Christians, I’m confused about what we believe about taxes.
Here’s why: during the Presidential debate, Donald Trump made it clear that he thinks it’s “smart” to take advantage of any loophole possible to avoid paying taxes. And Trump supporters, including the Christians, seemed to agree with fervor.
But I have spent a lot of time in churches over the past few years leading workshops and conversations about immigrants, and I’ve heard many Christians express disdain for undocumented immigrants — expressly because of a belief that they do not pay taxes. I hear people say that one should not benefit from a system that one does not pay into. I hear that paying taxes is part of our social contract. It’s even Biblical.
This has always been my golden opportunity to debunk that myth: undocumented immigrants actually pay tons of taxes. They pay property tax, sales tax, and the majority also have payroll taxes withheld from their paychecks — they pay Social Security and income tax just like the rest of us suckers who haven’t figured out how to play the game as well as Trump has.
This comes as a surprise to lots of Christians who have been lied to about this issue from their favorite TV personality (who is probably also taking advantage of lots of tax breaks). But it’s the truth. Take Social Security alone: the Social Security Administration reports that undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars into that system each year (and will never receive any benefit in their retirement years).
Many undocumented immigrants pay taxes because they have been advised that it may help their chances of gaining legal status someday. Over the years our political leaders have occasionally dangled a carrot, proposing ideas like allowing a path to legal status for the 12 million people in the U.S. without authorization, but it will come with a few stipulations — one of those being a requirement to pay the taxes they owe. So lots of immigrants, who are praying for immigration reform every day, hope when such a bill passes they’ll be able to pull 15 years of carefully kept paperwork out of their filing cabinet and show they have been paying faithfully since the beginning.
The assumption here, of course, is that paying one’s taxes is the right thing to do. We Christians seem clear on this when we’re picturing a nameless farmworker or a housekeeper. But apparently when we’re picturing someone like Donald Trump, we get fuzzy.
The tragedy is, of course, that these undocumented taxpayers aren’t taking advantage of a loophole to avoid paying taxes, they’re finding a loophole so that they can (google “Individual Tax Identification Number”). They’re paying taxes to a country that doesn’t claim them. They’re doing it because they believe it is the right thing to do, because they believe in an America where everyone contributes, and everyone is valued.
Maybe that’s not “smart” to believe in a world like that. But “smart” doesn’t describe lots of things that are true, or noble, or right, or pure, or lovely, or admirable, or excellent, or praiseworthy. Maybe a “smart” strategy, one which puts one person’s own interests ahead of the interests of the common good, should not be lauded among a community of people who follow Jesus.