Illegal immigrants say tax credits are needed

Salvador Presteguin is a plumber who works long hours.

Should the IRS be giving billions of dollars in tax credits to illegal immigrants?

Many lawmakers say "no" after seeing an Eyewitness News investigation exposing massive fraud involving undocumented workers and child tax credits.

Now some illegal immigrants are speaking out to explain why the tax credits are so important, and why Congress should not eliminate them.

Salvador Presteguin is a plumber who works long hours.

"Seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day," he told Eyewitness News while installing new pipes under a kitchen sink.

When Salvador gets home, the focus is on his children.

Jose, 13, plays on his middle school football team.

Israel, 16, is a stand-out cross country runner for his high school track squad.

Dulce, 21, studies nursing at Ivy Tech Community College.

All have high hopes for their futures, and all were busy studying during WTHR's recent late-night visit to the family's home in Fort Wayne.

"I send my kids to school, teach them good principles, and they are just great kids," Salvador said, shaking his head with approval.

You might say the Presteguins are a typical American family. Chasing the American dream - even though Salvador is not an American citizen.

"I am not here legally," he admits. "The reason I came here is to give a better life to my family. They mean everything. My wife and my kids, they mean everything for me."

Salvador is from Mexico. He came to Indiana 21 years ago, and his story is very common.

There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently living the United States. Many, like Salvador, have started families here, work here, pay taxes here.

"I pay taxes like every other citizen. Paying taxes is not something you choose to do. It's something you have to do in this country, and I teach my children we have to respect the rules and we have to respect this country," said the plumber.

The IRS established special taxpayer identification numbers called ITINs that allow undocumented workers to pay taxes. ITINs also allow illegal immigrants to get tax refunds and tax credits. 

Many lawmakers in Washington now want those tax credits eliminated, after an Eyewitness News investigation documented how child tax credits intended for kids living in the United States are being badly abused – in many cases, by undocumented workers. 13 Investigates showed some illegal immigrants claim huge tax credits for children who live in other countries, and the IRS has been turning a blind eye for more than a decade.

Following the investigation, the issue was hotly debated in Congress, and lawmakers like Sam Johnson (R-Texas) have introduced legislation to curb the abuses.

"The IRS is shoveling out billions of American taxpayer's money to those who are here illegally," Johnson told colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives in May. "We can fix this by simply requiring a social security number."  Johnson's child tax credit legislation would eliminate child tax credits for all individuals who have ITIN numbers.  Eligible recipients would be required to provide a social security number – something that Salvador and millions of other illegal immigrants do not have.

"That's going to hurt. It's going to hurt a lot," Salvador said, when he heard of Johnson's proposal.

Families like the Presteguins would be hit hard.  Because Salvador doesn't have a Social Security number, he'd lose thousands of dollars in tax credits for his children – children who were born in the U.S. and who are U.S. citizens.

Salvador says that child credit tax money helps him pay for his kids' food and clothing, and to pay for his mortgage.

"Bills like those currently being proposed in Washington would be incredibly catastrophic for children in the US," said Wendy Cervantes, a child rights advocate who works for First Focus in Washington.

She says the proposals from Capitol Hill would affect millions of kids.

"There are about 4.5 million children currently living in the U.S. who are U.S. citizens who may have at least one undocumented parent who is filing with an ITIN number, and they'd all be at risk of losing this credit," Cervantes explained. "Most of these immigrants are actually filing taxes legally according to the current tax rules and are claiming children who live here in the United States."

Salvador says the Internal Revenue Service should punish people who are abusing the system -- but not families like his, which are following rules established by the IRS. He has a message for Congress:

"Please don't penalize everybody," he said.  "That's going to hurt a lot of people. It's going to hurt a lot of kids."

See all of the stories from our investigation here.