Image caption: The top portion of the IRS 1040 tax form is shown.
By Benjamin Winkler and Victoria Martin-Nelson
Both the Christian New Testament and the Jewish Torah instruct us to build radical forms of community. Whether we are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself” or to “welcome the stranger,” both faiths teach that we must work to lift up others.
Our faiths led us to volunteer over the past year with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a legal aid and social services organization for immigrants, both legal and undocumented. We involved ourselves with the Philadelphia Neighbor program, which matches volunteers with a newly arrived family. We were matched with an amazing family who came here as asylees from a Middle Eastern country. To apply for asylum, this family had to arrive in the United States while claiming a credible fear of persecution in their home country. Getting to know them and seeing what they have accomplished already is a source of strength for us both.
We serve as adjuncts to the family’s case manager, and act like helpful neighbors to this family. . Some of the projects we have been helping with include navigating the health care and social services systems.While we were helping to prepare the family’s taxes for 2018, we became aware of how the Republican tax bill of 2017 specifically targeted immigrant families. We already knew it was a massive giveaway to 1%-ers and corporate interests, but seeing how subtle changes in the law were hurting our new friends made us want to raise our voices.
The 2017 tax bill kept certain immigrants without permanent status (such as people without green cards) from receiving personal exemptions. These exemptions work similarly to the standard deduction, which allows an individual or family to reduce their tax burden. Even before the tax bill, immigrants without permanent status already could not claim the Earned Income Tax credit, a major boost in income for working-class families around the country. In previous years, the family we work with received this personal exemption, reducing their tax burden to a negligible amount. However, under the 2017 bill, they could no longer do so, even though they held asylum status. This small change to the tax code had a cruel impact on our friends: increasing their taxes by over $1,000.
Conservatives talk a big game about how they want to encourage immigrants to come through legal channels, work hard, and pay taxes, yet their policies consistently disadvantage people who do those things, to the detriment of us all. Our faiths instruct us not to stay silent in the face of injustice. It’s our hope that by writing this article, we will inspire conversations about what kind of world we want to build as socialists, and whether it raises up the wealthy, or is inclusive of everyone.
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To get involved with HIAS, please visit: https://hiaspa.org/get-involved/volunteer