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Undocumented immigrants would find it easier to file tax returns, and as a result be allowed to remain in the country and work, under a measure by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, prompted in part by Congress' failure to approve an immigration overhaul.

Debates over illegal immigration can often be distilled to a question about resources: whether undocumented immigrants take more, in the form of public services like education and healthcare, than they put back in with taxes.

Those seeking tighter immigration controls argue that immigrants are a drain on the system; advocates counter that the foreign-born pay a substantial share of property, sales and income taxes even when they are in the country illegally.

Alejo wants to keep the revenue flowing with a bill requiring the Franchise Tax Board to advertise the fact that people can obtain an individual taxpayer identification number and use it to file a return. Unlike having a Social Security number, getting a taxpayer ID number does not require citizenship or legal residency.

"They're only looking for a lawful way so they can work, pay their taxes and continue to contribute to California's economy," Alejo said.

But Alejo's ambition goes beyond generating revenue. He wants to link paying taxes with winning work permits and being exempt from deportation, though both would require special permission from the Obama administration. Alejo said his bill is necessary because Congress has not passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

"My bill is trying to continue to put California on the cutting edge, saying because we have failed to act in Congress states like California are trying to find our own temporary solutions to allow immigrant workers to work lawfully in California and to have relief," Alejo said.

The bill would have Gov. Jerry Brown press the federal government to not pursue deportation cases against immigrants who have filed taxes, unless those immigrants have committed serious or violent felonies. Tax-paying immigrants would also be able to enroll in a pilot program offering work permits.

Tax collectors would not be allowed to share tax filing information with other government entities like the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees deportations. There are similar protections in Alejo's 2013 bill offering driver's licenses to immigrants. California also moved to protect immigrants from federal enforcement last year with a law barring authorities from scooping up immigrants detained for minor crimes, and the bill would similarly inoculate immigrants with clean criminal records.

Assembly Bill 2014 goes before the Assembly Revenue And Taxation Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Monday.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville during session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.


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