When we say let’s build a caring economy for all, we mean all

Opinion: Congress is in danger of leaving undocumented immigrants, a critical population, behind when it comes to tax credits

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Twenty years ago, Congress made a mistake that left millions of women, especially Black women, behind. They expanded the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, but cowering to sexist and racist tropes, they included work and income requirements. 

Two decades later, we have a monumental opportunity to get this and other economic policies right. But Congress is again in danger of leaving a critical population behind: undocumented immigrants. 

After one of the most contested elections in this nation’s history, where Black, brown and immigrant folks voted to stand up for each other to usher in leaders with a new vision for our families, President Joe Biden and his team are making good on that promise.

Slightly more than 100 days into the Biden administration, we are witnessing a dizzying array of proposals that have the potential to remake our economy into one that benefits all of us, tackles poverty, advances racial justice and creates jobs in places and communities where people need it most. 

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President Biden Kamala Harris thegrio.com
U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress as Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (R) look on in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

In addition to the $2 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed in March, the Biden administration is proposing another $4 trillion to bolster infrastructure, invest in child care, paid family and medical leave, and expand tax credits that offer people cash they need to buy food, make the rent and pay for essentials.

These proposals have the biggest potential to help Black and brown families, especially those headed by women. Proposals like a permanent expanded CTC and EITC, paid for by raising taxes on wealthy CEOs, are popular with voters across party lines. According to new polling by Data for Progress, likely voters support the expansion by a 15-point margin.

In fact, support for expanding the Child Tax Credit so that it provides up to $300 a month for each child is strongest among Black and Latino likely voters, with almost four in 10 backing the expansion.

But if they exclude undocumented immigrants from this chance to radically transform our economy, the Biden administration and Congressional legislators will be ignoring an important opportunity to directly connect the interests of Black, brown and immigrant people. This is especially true for Black immigrants in particular–who are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Given how we are seeing such progress since last year’s election, it is easy to forget that a radical – and dangerous – conservative movement is pitting people against each other based on the color of their skin, their gender and where they were born, specifically their immigration status. The Trump administration weaponized anti-Blackness and anti-immigrant fervor like no president has in decades. 

We know that hate still festers through pockets of the GOP, even though Trump is no longer in office. Democrats can help fight back against that threat in one very simple way: Making sure our economic policies are grounded in the principle that we are all stronger together, no matter our race or where we were born.

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This December 2019 photo shows Honduran asylum seeker, Christopher, 6, standing with his father on the international bridge from Mexico to the United States in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico. They were waiting to be taken by U.S. officials to an immigration court hearing in Brownsville, Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The opportunity to do just that was particularly ripe on the issue of direct cash payments and tax credits in the March stimulus package. That legislation, known as the American Rescue Plan, gave low-income families an income through expanded tax credits for 2021 and a one-time stimulus check. 

But, Democrats denied undocumented immigrants these benefits and the sums were significant. The expanded Child Tax Credits and Earned Income Tax Credits, along with the one-time cash payments, will provide a low-income family of four with two young children as much as $12,800 this year. That matches the yearly cost of raising a child.

Yet, Congress continues to insist on using immigration status as a litmus test for access to benefits, denying a crucial lifeline to millions of immigrants and their families who pay taxes and add value to the economy. 

When our policymakers decide to expand political or economic benefits for some people, while leaving millions behind, they not only actively deny millions of people what they need to live, they also convey the very false message that we cannot create more economic and political freedom for one group without denying access to others. 

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The U.S. Capitol building is reflected on the hood of a car on February 10, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Of course, this is an old, and very American story. Since the founding of our country to today, laws governing the economy have been designed to keep people from opportunity and economic citizenship based on their race, ethnic identity or gender. The truth is the economy is rigged against nearly everyone, but especially Black and brown people, and women. Those with power and wealth keep it that way by convincing the rest of us that there’s not enough to go around. 

Biden and the Congress have another opportunity to write a different story for our country, one where the color of your skin, your gender or where you were born does not determine whether you live in poverty and despair. 

Congress can start by at least ensuring that all immigrants are able to access the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit and that undocumented essential workers have a path to citizenship. 

After years of political racism–the deliberate strategy by elected officials and political elites to sow racial, ethnic and gender division for their own narrow benefit–we think the country is ready for policy that acknowledges that we’re all in this together. As we create progress we should leave no one behind.

So, let’s act now and to remove the rules of racial, ethnic, and gender exclusion from their roots and build a new economy grounded in real equity and solidarity. 

Dorian Warren and Lorella Praeli are the co-presidents of Community  Change Action, a social justice organization focused on building the power of low-income communities, especially Black, brown and immigrant communities. Community Change Action is co-sponsoring today’s Credit Where Credit is Due Roundtable with TheGrio and the Economic Security Project.

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