Call someone anti-immigrant for opposing public services for non-citizens, and chances are you'll be corrected. It's anti-illegal-immigrant, you'll be told, not anti-immigrant. To some extent, that's true. But the arcane rules of the new economic stimulus package, which keep tax rebates from going to many legal residents and even citizens, show that the realities of immigration policy are more complicated, and more hostile to the foreign born, than such an answer implies.
Under pressure from various groups -- let's call them "groups concerned about immigration" -- that opposed sending rebates to illegal immigrants, Congress wrote the package so that only people with Social Security numbers would get the money. That includes spouses of people who are legally employed in this country and, in a nasty extension, the employees themselves if they filed a joint tax return. In other words, say a citizen or legal immigrant files a joint return with someone who is here legally but doesn't have a work visa. That household won't get a tax rebate.
Why aren't the groups that are only anti- illegal-immigrant lobbying against this inequitable treatment?
Dan Stein, whose Federation for American Immigration Reform had pushed to keep the money from illegal immigrants, has no problem with how things worked out. Legal immigrants, he said, are "people whose connections to the society are more tenuous." Barbara Coe, who founded the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, finds the marriage provision unfair -- unless, she said, the employee in the family was hired legally as "cheaper labor." Yet no one tries to stop this "cheaper labor" with supposedly tenuous connections from paying taxes.
Congress is hastening to fix the problem, but only for U.S. troops deployed overseas. That's not enough. This country should send a clear message that it will not engage in official reaction against its legal foreign-born residents. The spousal provision isn't just anti-illegal-immigrant, it is anti-immigrant, and it is unfair.