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GOP blasts IRS over illegal immigrants' tax returns
Comments from Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen on how the agency handles the tax returns of illegal immigrants are drawing outrage from conservative lawmakers.
It is the latest in a string of complaints that congressional Republicans have leveled against the agency.
The issue in this instance concerns illegal immigrants who use other people's social security numbers (SSNs) to get jobs and then file their taxes with their IRS-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs).
Although the tax returns contain false W-2 information, the IRS continues to process them, and the agency does not notify the people whose SSNs were used.
Responding to questions from Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday, Koskinen said that in such cases "it's in everybody's interest to have them pay the taxes they owe."
The IRS is looking to see if there is a way they can alert victims whose SSNs were used fraudulently without discouraging people from filing their taxes, he added.
The next day, at a House Small Business Committee hearing, Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) asked Koskinen about his remarks at the Senate Finance Committee hearing. Koskinen said that his agency's responsibility is tax administration and it is not in their jurisdiction to go after people who used fraudulent SSNs to get a job.
"We have Social Security and immigration authorities and others who enforce that part of the law, and if we start looking behind the system and doing their job for them, we're going to discourage a lot of people from paying the taxes they owe," Koskinen said.
Brat told The Hill on Friday that he was "shocked" and "horrified" by Koskinen's response.
Brat said he had hoped the commissioner would take a different attitude but instead "he...almost doubled-down on it and just said, 'That's not our job.'"
Coats will try to address the employment-related identity theft issue in an amendment to broader legislation that the Senate Finance Committee is working on, a spokesman for the senator said.
Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also expressed worries about the IRS's approach.
"It was concerning to hear the commissioner acknowledge the IRS is aware of filers using fake Social Security numbers but the agency has failed to do anything about it," Hatch said.
The IRS was a popular target on Capitol Hill ahead of the April 18 tax-filing deadline.
Lawmakers grilled Koskinen on the speed of the agency's cybersecurity improvements and criticized the agency in speeches at an event hosted by Americans for Tax Reform. The House Ways and Means Committee approved four bills aimed at IRS accountability, and the full House is expected to take up those measures and two other IRS bills next week.
Thursday evening, a group of House Republicans gave floor speeches arguing that Koskinen should be impeached. The lawmakers criticized Koskinen for alleged improprieties relating to Congress's investigation into the political-targeting scandal.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was among the speakers, said Friday that Koskinen's comments about illegal immigrants' tax returns are "just one more example of why Koskinen is doing such a poor job and should be impeached."
Koskinen's remarks also drew criticism from those advocating for reduced immigration.
"It is not just troubling, it is outrageous that a federal agency would allow, and especially encourage, lawbreakers," said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA.
But Koskinen defended the agency's approach when speaking to reporters after Wednesday's hearing in the House.
"If people with ITINs think the fact that they file with us means they're now in jeopardy, a lot of them are going to quit filing with us," he said.
He added, "What we can't afford to do is have people feel, 'If I pay my taxes to the IRS, they're going to quickly check with immigration, they're going to check with social security, they're going to check with everybody,' and even if they are here legitimately, a lot of times they're uneasy about dealing with authority."