Gang of Eight splits over tax credits for provisional immigrants

Democratic and Republican members of the Gang of Eight split Monday over a proposal to block millions of immigrants from receiving earned income tax credits, a major cash assistance program.

Sens. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerChasing away scalpers only hurts consumers Reid: 'I have set the Senate' for nuclear option Immigration was barely covered in the debates MORE (D-N.Y.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Wikileaks: Durbin pushed unknown Warren for Obama bank regulator The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Ill.) broke with Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump on primary rivals who don't back him: 'I don't know how they live with themselves' The Trail 2016: Who is really winning? Graham: GOP Senate could rein in Clinton White House MORE (R-S.C.) and Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeReport: Investor visa program mainly funds wealthy areas High anxiety for GOP Five takeaways from final debate MORE (R-Ariz.) over the issue of giving federal payments to illegal immigrants who would receive temporary legal status under the legislation.

Graham and Flake supported an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsMcCain: Accepting election results is 'American way' GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Some in GOP say Trump has gone too far MORE (R-Ala.) to deny earned income tax credits (EITC) to people with Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI).

An estimated 11 million illegal immigrants would gain RPI status under the immigration reform bill pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Schumer and Durbin voted no.

It failed on a party-line vote of 8 to 10.

“EITC is generally available to anyone who has a Social Security number and many are abusing that today we’ve discovered but as these RPIs are established and get a Social Security number, they will qualify it appears under the law for Earned Income Tax Credit,” Sessions said.

Sessions disputed what he called claims by the Gang of Eight that immigrants with temporary legal status would not receive federal benefits.

“This would grant such benefits to millions and be a substantial burden on our country’s finances at a time we’re desperately trying to reduce our deficits,” he said.

An aide to Sessions said “every year billions [of dollars] of tax credits go to illegal immigrants.”

Earned income tax credits comprise the nation’s largest cash assistance program for low-income families after the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, according to the Tax Policy Center.

The center estimates that about 26 million households will receive $60 billion in tax credits this year.

A low-income family with two kids can receive up to $5,372 in credit, sometimes exceeding the amount it pays in taxes.

Schumer called Sessions’s amendment fatally flawed.

“What about those who have RPI status? They’re paying into the system. They’re paying taxes. They’re doing everything like another citizen, and so it’s questionable whether they should be excluded from EITC. It’s a value choice,” said Schumer.

Schumer emphasized that illegal immigrants would not receive tax credits under the bill.

He noted that Sen. John McCainJohn McCainCruz: Precedent exists for keeping Supreme Court short-staffed Trump promises ‘new deal for black America’ Endangered GOP senator: I don't know for whom I'll vote MORE (Ariz.), another Republican member of the Gang of Eight, opposed a similar proposal in 2006.

He cited McCain’s argument at the time that the Sessions amendment would impose an “indefensible double-standard on legalized workers” by making them abide by tax rules but exempting them from credits.

The schism in the gang alarmed proponents of immigration reform.

"It's concerning for what it means for the floor debate," said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Members of the group have thus far stayed together on most votes to defeat controversial changes to the bill.

This story was updated at 1:02 p.m.