A group representing farm workers is urging the Obama administration not to use the new healthcare law as a tool to deport people.
The organization, Farmworker Justice, wrote on Thursday to the IRS -- the agency tasked with carrying out the applications for exemption to the health law's individual mandate -- for assurances the ObamaCare application will not be used for alternative purposes.
"Undocumented individuals are unlikely to apply for an exemption if they are required to declare their unlawful immigration status on a Federal income tax form," wrote Virginia Ruiz, the director of Occupational and Environmental Health for the group.
She adds, "the IRS should explicitly state that the information provided by the tax filer will not be used for immigration enforcement purposes."
Thursday marked the deadline for sending comments to the agency about the proposal, which was issued at the end of January. As of Friday afternoon, 54 individuals and organizations had left responses, though more could be reviewed and posted by the agency up until midnight.
Ruiz told The Hill it's not clear how the law will impact undocumented workers, which is prompting concerns throughout various immigrant advocacy groups.
The National Immigration Law Center voiced similar unease about the potential for Affordable Care Act forms to force undocumented workers to declare their unlawful status.
“We recommend that applicants for the exemption are not required to attest that they are not lawfully present. Doing so would likely… undermine compliance with the nation’s tax laws as well as the requirements under the ACA,” Sonal Ambegaokar, a health policy attorney at the organization, wrote to the IRS on Thursday.
Overall, the group appeared more supportive of the IRS’ proposal than Farmworker Justice.
The two groups recommended that the individual mandate forms only require exemption-seekers to check a box that tells the agency whether or not they sought exemption from the tax.
“For example, the question could ask: “Are you eligible to apply for health insurance coverage? Yes or No,” offered the letter from Farmworker Justice.
The proposed rule does not address “mixed-status families,” the groups note. These are households where some members may be undocumented, some could be lawful permanent residents and others could be U.S. citizens.
Seventy-three percent of undocumented workers had children that are citizens because they were born in the U.S., according to a 2008 Pew Hispanic Center study cited by Ruiz.
The organization says these families are some of the most likely to qualify for the exemption to “shared responsibility payment” – or the individual mandate tax imposed by the IRS -- due to low incomes.
“Farm workers are among the poorest of the working poor, with a median annual income of between $15,000 and $17,499,” she writes, referencing Labor Department statistics from 2009.
More recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show those incomes have improved modestly – with the median salaries of farmworkers now coming in at $18,670. For a family of four, the poverty guidelines used by the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies to determine eligibility for federal programs, is set at $23,550.