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Immigrant Families Should Not Pay the Price| Commentary

For a while now, kids — particularly those in immigrant families — have been unfairly under attack in the Senate, and the only plausible explanation is unconscionable: to score political points.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., recently proposed variations of a plan to strip away the refundable Child Tax Credit that now goes to millions of children of taxpaying immigrant workers in low-wage jobs.

Ayotte alleges that immigrants are fleecing taxpayers by claiming children who do not live in the country or do not really exist. At one point, the senator said she wanted money gained by denying the tax credit to pay for extension of emergency unemployment insurance benefits. Then she switched her focus to helping restore earlier cuts to veterans’ pension benefits. In fact, there are much fairer sources of funding for these goals. For example, New Hampshire’s other senator, Jeanne Shaheen, said veterans’ benefits could be paid for by closing offshore tax loopholes.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter where the money would go since taking money away from children of low-wage, tax-paying families is indefensible. Ayotte’s proposal is misguided and antithetical to the Gospel call to care for children and those at the margins of society. It violates our long-held values as a nation, and it should be rejected.

To set the record straight, children targeted by her plan do exist and they do live in the U.S. Four million of them are U.S. citizens and others are “little DREAMers,” young children brought to this country by their families. Under existing tax laws, their families may apply for the child tax credit if they qualify financially. If fraud is suspected, the solution is not to deny all eligible children access to this critical antipoverty program. That is cruel and ineffective.

The Child Tax Credit is a proven success in addressing poverty. Senators concerned about child poverty agree that funding for other programs can be found without targeting needy children.

Ayotte says she understands families’ needs, yet wants to deny a child tax credit to taxpaying immigrant families. Actions speak louder than words, and her proposal hurts families.

Our political leaders should never place poor children in a position of competing with other vulnerable populations for funds that help pay for food and other basic needs.

Deliberately harming immigrant families goes against the fundamental goodwill of Americans, including thousands of people we met last year as our “Nuns on the Bus” traveled 6,500 miles across the U.S. to speak out for justice. Throughout our journey, we stood with, prayed with, and heard the stories of hundreds of immigrants who have long served the needs of our nation.

Responsible leaders in Congress should look into their hearts and reject proposals like this one pushed by Ayotte. This political tactic is not good for our economy or the wellbeing of our entire nation — especially children who are the future of our country. We are better than this.

Sister Simone Campbell is executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, and leader of NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus.”

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