Denham Springs lawmaker writes bill targeting immigrants to ‘deter theft of our LA tax dollars’

Bill would make it harder for Louisianans to claim dependents, others say

Hodges bill targeting immigrants
Louisiana Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, attends a committee meeting on Aug. 19, 2020. (Photo by Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

State Rep. Valarie Hodges has introduced a bill targeting immigrants that could make it more difficult for Louisianans to claim dependents on their annual tax returns, particularly those of lower-income with children studying abroad.

Present law allows taxpayers to claim a state individual income tax credit of 5 percent of the amount of the taxpayer’s federal earned income tax credit (EITC). Hodges’ House Bill 61 would deny the 5 percent credit unless the taxpayer fills out and signs a form provided by the Louisiana Department of Revenue attesting that the dependent has been physically present in the United States for at least 180 calendar days of the taxable year.

The bill would exempt military members on active duty overseas but would not exempt anyone else who works abroad for the government or private sector. Military members deployed overseas are already exempt from large portions of their income taxes. 

The federal tax code for the earned income credit already requires dependents to have lived in the U.S. for six months, with a few exceptions. Hodges, R-Denham Springs, did not respond to phone or email messages seeking an explanation for why she drafted the bill, but her website contains a page on “Immigration” that mentions an identical bill she introduced in 2019 that “would have deterred the theft of our LA tax dollars by requiring that the taxpayer certify in the filing process that the dependent they are claiming actually does qualify as a legal citizen of Louisiana.” She also says Louisiana has more than 1,000 undocumented immigrants who are “enrolling in our schools” and standing “in line for public assistance.” 

Some in the Latin American community have suspected that the bill is an attempt by Hodges to stir up resentment against immigrants.

“We believe that the bill is a thinly veiled effort to bolster anti-immigrant sentiment and validate the belief that undocumented workers are unfairly drawing on governmental benefits to which they are not entitled,” said Andrea Agee, staff attorney at Loyola Law’s Workplace Justice Project, an organization that fights for fair wages for the immigrant community and against employers who try to steal their wages. “Beyond that, the bill is unnecessary, as undocumented individuals are already barred from receiving the EITC as it requires the taxpayer to be a U.S. Citizen or a resident alien (for the entire year) with a social security number.” 

Also, for a child to qualify as a dependent, the child must have a social security number and must live with the qualifying parent for more than half of the year. Given all those current requirements under the Internal Revenue Code, House Bill 61 would add nothing to the effort of preventing fraudulent tax credit claims, Agee said.

Jared Walczak of The Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy nonprofit in Washington, said Hodges’ bill could strip away the earned income credit for Louisianans who have children studying abroad.

“I think it would affect someone with a child studying abroad,” Walczak said. “That’s one area that immediately comes to mind.

Salvador Longoria, a New Orleans attorney and advocate for Latino immigrants, said Hodges’ bill “wouldn’t be the first time legislation was passed to affect the undocumented communities yet ended up having an unintentional secondary affect on other communities.” 

“It’s going to screw the native born population too,” Longoria said. “It’s going to affect everybody across the board.”

 The bill has the potential to hurt lower-income filers in Louisiana because the earned income tax credit exists to provide support for filers with low-to-moderate salaries below certain thresholds, such as a single parent who makes less than $41,756 and has one child.

This isn’t the first bill Hodges has drafted that has upset the immigrant community and their supporters.  She introduced 2015 legislation targeting immigrants that became a law requiring foreign-born people to produce a birth certificate in addition to a passport or visa in order to get married in Louisiana. 

The act caused problems for legal immigrants who, in some cases, came to the U.S. from countries that didn’t provide formal birth certificates or came as refugees fleeing war zones with few of their personal effects. The Washington Post  wrote about a couple who travelled to Alabama to get married after the groom — a refugee from Laos who came to Louisiana in 1986 — was denied a marriage license here.

Both Democrats and Republicans were critical of the law, and ultimately a federal judge blocked enforcement of it in 2017.

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House Bill 61