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A Win for Undocumented Californians

Derek Engdahl, Co-General Director of Servant Partners, shares how his local organizing group was involved in securing a statewide victory for California’s undocumented residents

Under California's tax laws, undocumented residents pay taxes—but receive no tax benefits

In the United States, immigration persists as a contentious public issue. Most recently, we celebrated the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold DACA. California itself is home to over 2 million undocumented immigrants, constituting nearly a quarter of the nation’s total. In the contexts in which we live and serve, many of our neighbors are undocumented residents.

In our local, statewide, and national conflicts around immigration, there are many crucial details that are ignored. For example, many undocumented residents pay taxes through Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITIN), but are denied any earned income tax credit for being low to moderate income earners.

Essentially—they pay taxes, but receive no tax breaks.

I live in Pomona, where I am a part of a local organizing group called Inland Communities Organizing Network (ICON). This spring, ICON joined seven other Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) organizations in California to convince the state legislature and governor to expand the California Earned Income Tax Credit to ITIN filers. We argued that expanding the tax credit would not be an act of generosity, but justice.

On May 5, 1200 leaders from the different IAF organizations throughout the state participated in a Zoom conversation with several state leaders, during which several undocumented residents shared their experiences of being marginalized. In following weeks, our coalition convinced a number of state senators to include the tax change in this year’s budget. We then asked the governor to sign it. And on June 30, Governor Newsom signed the budget extending the tax benefit, meaning that tens of thousands of households in California could get up to $2,600 in tax benefits every year.

As a nation and world, we are wrestling with the reality of oppressive and unjust systems. Change is often slower than we want, and it can be daunting to address the bureaucracy that entrenches injustice. But if we persevere and work together with our neighbors, we have capacity to bring about significant change. So, let us persevere.

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