Why undocumented immigrants should pay taxes

In my column this week in La Opinión I explain why undocumented immigrants must pay income taxes and what they must do to initiate the process.

Paying taxes is required by law and our responsibility for the right to live in the United States. Everyone, including undocumented immigrants, must file a tax return every year, unless they qualify for an exception. Not only can evading taxes get you in trouble with the law and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), it can affect your future immigration status.

If you are undocumented, failure to pay taxes could be grounds for denying you permanent residency if you ever qualify for the benefit. This is because one of the requirements for obtaining residency is good moral character. Evading taxes is considered not to be of good moral character.

To file your taxes, you must first apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The IRS issues ITINs to individuals who need an identification number for tax purposes but are not eligible to obtain a social security number (SSN). Obtaining an ITIN does not authorize you to work in the U.S. or provide social security benefits.

To obtain an ITIN, you must complete Form W-7SP, available in Spanish by clicking on this IRS web page. You must include a valid federal return, unless you qualify for an exception, and original documents or certificates proving your identity and foreign status. For assistance, you can go to a local IRS office.

You can also call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040 for information and assistance in completing Form W-7SP and your federal income tax return. Be sure to get proper advice before you send in your tax return. Consult with a certified accountant or IRS representative.

If you qualify for an ITIN, the IRS will send you a letter with your identification number, usually within four to six weeks after you apply. If you do not hear from the IRS after that time, call 1-800-829-1040 to find out the status of your application.

If you are a permanent resident, tax evasion can also affect you if you want to become a citizen. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may deny you citizenship for lack of good moral character.

If in doubt, consult an immigration attorney for proper advice.