According to a report released by The Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy in February 2016, they state that:

11 million illegal immigrants in the United States are paying annually an estimated amount of $11.64 billion in state and local taxes, on average an estimated 8 percent of their incomes.

Q. What is the legal basis of asking illegal immigrants in the USA to pay 'state and local taxes while denying them any basis for citizenship?

Q. And underlying that, the ethical and moral justification?

  • Users can find further discussion on this question in chat.
    – jimsug
    Dec 9, 2018 at 8:20

3 Answers 3


Paying taxes need not have any legal connection to citizenship or potential citizenship. There is no constitutional provision, or law, which limits taxation to citizens or those on a path to citizenship. Legal immigrants, those on visas, and indeed tourists, must all pay various taxes, including hotel taxes and sales taxes. Lawful immigrants who work in the US must pay federal and (in most states) state income tax, and I believe some undocumented immigrants pay Federal income tax as well.

Many countries tax people who are not citizens, nor immigrants in line for citizenship, and this has been true far back in history. Indeed the Romans taxed pretty much every inhabitant of and visitor to the Roman Empire, most of whom were not Roman Citizens. Things haven't changed that much since.

It might be argued on philosophical grounds that such people should not be required to pay taxes, or should not be required to pay certain specific taxes. But that is not the law at this time, and this forum is not for debating what the law should be.

  • All the same, there is likely to be a discussion of the same in the literature. It may not be the forum to 'discuss' or 'debate' such questions but all the same I think the locus where law, ethics & justice meet is the right locus to ask such questions. Dec 8, 2018 at 20:24
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    @Mozibur Ullah But this forum isn't a place "where law, ethics & justice meet".. This place is very specifically to ask and answer "what the law is". Dec 8, 2018 at 20:45
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    @Mozibur Ullah Please read law.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic for more details about what is on topic for this forum. Dec 8, 2018 at 22:52
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    @moz please ask about what, and whether something is on-topic, on Law Meta. However, the on-topic page was created shortly after the site was created based on the questions that were asked, answered, and closed at the time, as well as the discussion on Area 51 about possible overlap with sites such as Politics. You're welcome to start a discussion on Meta on whether the scope should be widened to include your proposal.
    – jimsug
    Dec 9, 2018 at 8:27
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    Lawful nonimmigrants also mostly pay tax (unless they're diplomats).
    – phoog
    Dec 9, 2018 at 8:55

Taxes are not a charge for citizenship; they are a charge for services.

Documented or not, immigrants continue to enjoy the vast majority of services that are funded by the taxes they pay. They continue to have access to roads, courts, schools, clean water, sewers, police protection, and so on. Beyond that, they also enjoy the benefits that are facilitated by those tax-funded services, including employment, safety, economic stability, etc.

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    Some taxes could be considered a charge for services. Some are intended as incentives, or disincentives, to particular actions. and some are pretty much arbitrary methods for a government to raise revenue. But what ever their moral basis, they all have legal force. Dec 8, 2018 at 21:59
  • I'm not sure what you're getting at.
    – bdb484
    Dec 8, 2018 at 22:01
  • @ bdb484 Some taxes are fairly directly related to specific services, and might be thought of as charges for them. Some are intended to encourage or discourage particular behavior, such as the tax on people who do not obtain individual health insurance, and act almost like fines. And some are neither, although they do help pay for various services. Dec 8, 2018 at 22:08
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    Providing government services is definitely a business. There's plenty of room to debate what kind of business it is and how that business should be run, but when it comes to taxes and spending, the relationship between the governed and their government is essentially that of a customer and a service provider.
    – bdb484
    Dec 9, 2018 at 3:22
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    @DavidSiegel I don't see the overstatement. Taxes are often assessed to push behavior in one direction or another, but the same is true of anyone who charges for services. Restaurants don't want you to order items that generate the least profit, so they increase the price. Grocery stores want you to buy the ground beef that set to expire, so they lower the price. Hotels don't want you to smoke in the room, so they charge you if you do. Amazon wants you to stop using two-day shipping, so it offers a discount. I don't see a difference between this and Obamacare taxes or child-care tax credits.
    – bdb484
    Dec 9, 2018 at 3:25

My initial answer here stated that illegal/undocumented immigrants are not actually asked to pay direct taxes (e.g. income tax) — some of them do so voluntarily in the hope that it will help them to get legalized later:

Filing taxes helps immigrants create a paper trail to show when they entered the country and how long they’ve been contributing tax dollars. Many are hoping it will help them get legal status one day. That has happened in past reform efforts, and one of the first requirements is usually to prove that a person has been paying taxes.

Does the USA ask illegal migrants to pay income tax?

Illegal immigrants technically satisfy the tax law definition of "resident alien" as they pass the Substantial Presence Test (not to be confused with other legal definitions of "resident alien" found for example here).

At the same time, it is illegal for undocumented immigrants to work. Income obtained by undertaking illegal activity is illegally obtained (even though the work itself can be no wrong, doing it without visa/permit is illegal). Does the USA require to pay income tax on illegally obtained income? As per James v. United_States (1961) — yes, it does.

Therefore, the USA indeed asks illegal immigrants to pay income tax, while still denying them a path to citizenship. This is probably just as much ethically and morally justified as seeing it okay to tax illegal income.

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    – Dale M
    Sep 30, 2019 at 3:59

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