By Nancy Cook
to an audio version of this
Usually, people don't line up to file their taxes. But a New Bedford
non-profit called the Community Economic Development Corporation has tried
to change this by offering free tax preparation for low-income residents and
Spanish-speaking immigrants. They've encouraged the city's burgeoning
Central American community to file taxes this year. With the immigration
reform looming, they hope that paying tax dollars could lead to citizenship.
Although Rocael Reyes has worked and lived in New Bedford for two years with
his wife and baby, he's never before filed taxes. He's an illegal immigrant
from Guatemala, who doesn't want to draw attention to himself. But this year
Reyes feels differently.
: "Que es tu ocupacion?"
What is your occupation, the volunteer tax preparer asks him.
: "Aqui? Plaster."
Here? Plaster, he says. Reyes works for a local construction company that
pays $12.50 an hour, no benefits. He snuck into the United States to escape
poverty in Guatemala, where he worked a farmer and in a Nestle factory.
Reyes says his reluctance to previously file taxes had more to do with a
lack of information than unwillingness.
: "Es la primera vez porque la verdad a veces por falta de
informacion. No puedemos hacerlo. Pues, esta opportunidad tuve la
informacion como hacerlo y es por la primera vez."
Corinn Williams, the Executive Director of the New Bedford non-profit the
Community Economic Development Corporation, paraphrases Reyes' words.
(translating): "Well, it's the first time I'm filing my taxes because a
lot of time we don't have the information on where to go and how to do it.
This year I had the information, so that's why I'm filling out my taxes."
The Community Economic Development Corporation has tried to reach out to New
Bedford's Spanish-speaking community through its free tax preparation. The
non-profit meets with clients in the evenings and holds clinics on Saturday
mornings, run by accounting students from UMass Dartmouth. Several
volunteers speak Spanish. And in 2005, the CEDC helped sixty Spanish-speaking
immigrants file taxes. In 2006, seventy-five of the city's roughly 5,000 Central
American immigrants filed taxes with their help.
: "We feel that we're sort-of preparing some groundwork for
people who have been working productively and contributing to society."
Williams hopes that by filing taxes, illegal immigrants such as Reyes will
enhance their chances to stay in this country and possibly become citizens.
: "Yes, they have been here. They're paying their taxes. They
deserve an opportunity to adjust their status, to normalize their status and
become recognized legal workers in the United States."
Any type of attention illegal immigrants call to themselves can be risky. In
December, immigration officials arrested thirteen undocumented workers at a New
Bedford fish processing and planned to deport at least two back to El
The fate of illegal immigrants also could drastically change depending
on Congress. The House of Representatives recently passed a measure that
would make illegal immigration a felony, while the Senate has proposed
allowing illegal immigrants to apply for temporary work visas provided
they've lived in the U.S. for more than two years.
Williams admits the risks of filing taxes and identifying oneself are real,
but she also noted that the Internal Revenue Service, the federal agency
responsible for tax collection, seems to operate separately from the rest of
: "Well, surprisingly enough, it appears that the IRS
operates relatively autonomously from other parts of the government, from
social security and immigration. This area of the IRS is concerned mostly
with collecting revenue."
The CEDC helps any low-income person with tax preparation, computer
training small business advice or the search for an affordable apartment.
They're part of a network of sixty-five non-profits statewide.Over the course of
several afternoons, an elderly Portuguese woman received a $700 tax refund
at the CEDC and residents used the computers. Reyes visited the center with
his brother. After filing his taxes on-line with the help of a volunteer,
Reyes learned that he'd receive $1,000 as a tax refund, some of which he
planned to send to Guatemala.
Broadcast May 4, 2006
Nancy Cook reports for the Cape & Islands NPR Stations.