Facts about Immigration:  Separating the wheat from chaff (Luke 3:17).

Do undocumented immigrants pay income taxes?

The Social Security Administration, the IRS, and immigration agencies freely admit that a large number of immigrants that are not authorized to work in the United States are having social security and income taxes withheld from their paychecks.  One way this has occurred is through the proliferation of the “Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers” (ITIN).  This month’s issue will briefly examine the ITIN and how it is used.

The IRS collects income tax from all aliens- irrespective of their legal status- who earn income in the United States.  Taxes are generally collected through payroll withholdings and submitted tax returns.  Aliens not eligible to receive a social security number can apply for an ITIN.  It is a nine-digit number that always begins with the number 9 and has a 7 or 8 in the fourth digit, example 9XX-7X-XXXX.  The IRS describes it this way:

ITINs are for federal tax reporting only, and are not intended to serve any other purpose. An ITIN does not authorize work in the U.S. or provide eligibility for Social Security benefits or the Earned Income Tax Credit. ITINs are not valid identification outside the tax system. IRS issues ITINs to help individuals comply with the U.S. tax laws, and to provide a means to efficiently process and account for tax returns and payments for those not eligible for Social Security Numbers.
(emphasis added)

You can read more about ITINs here: http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96287,00.html#what
As of June 2006, the IRS had issued more than 7 million ITINs.  Read more here:http://www.ssa.gov/oig/ADOBEPDF/audittxt/A-03-05-25038.htm
The IRS states that the tax return filing compliance rate for ITIN holders is about 75% . Learn more on page 52. (pdf)

Problems have arisen because, like the social security number, ITINs are being used as personal identifiers by government agencies and the private sector for things like employment, insurance, and drivers’ licenses.  This has created unintended problems because aliens are paying Social Security taxes with ITINs.  ITINs are not valid social security numbers and thus any money withheld in conjunction with an ITIN is a “no match” and will be put in the Social Security Administration’s suspense file.  In response to a question at a March 10, 2004 subcommittee hearing of the United States House Weighs & Means Committee, James B. Lockhart, III, the Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration said this:

What I said is in our suspense file, there are approximately $7 billion a year of payroll taxes, if you will, that we treat as payroll taxes, as if they came from a legitimate person. Now, the point is that most of those will never be matched to anybody, at least a major portion of them, and so they will never be used to pay a benefit from the system.

See here at page 34. (pdf)

You can read an interesting article about the subject here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/05/business/05immigration.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

The Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger (TBOWH) supports dozens of specific ministries around the world.  Many of these ministries are designed to help people who are trapped in poverty to become self-supporting in providing their families adequate incomes.  The following is the story of one person whose life was dramatically changed by the Upland Holistic Development Project, a ministry in Thailand supported by TBOWH. Jawat’s story has been adapted from a report submitted by CBF field staffer Rick Burnette.

Jawat’s Acre
Jawat Jalo lives in Ban Huai Pong, a community in northern Thailand accessible by a single rutted dirt road.  With 74 families, roughly one half of this impoverished hilltribe village is ethnic Red Lahu and the other half Palaung.

Living on the margins of Thai society, many of the residents lack Thai citizenship and other legal documentation.  Their statelessness results in numerous hardships such as limited payment for day labor.  Without special permission, these residents can’t legally travel outside their home districts, even for work or other business.  And without identity cards, Thailand’s hilltribe people are cut off from the country’s national health care service and are denied full access to its education system.

Another challenge for Ban Huai Pong is that the village is located within the Sri Lana National Park.  The community’s land claims are tenuous at best, and half of the residents lack access to personal plots of farmland.  In order to make living growing crops–one of the few options for income generation–the landless must rent degraded farmland from local ethnic Thais or other tribal groups.  With such limited access to resources, many in the community have partnered with the Upland Holistic Development project (UHDP) to improve their circumstances.

UHDP is a Christian non-governmental organization with strong ties to CBF Global Missions and strong support from TBOWH.  Such support has enabled the project to offer an array of holistic income-producing ministries to marginalized hilltribe communities related to sustainable agriculture (e.g., agroforestry, backyard farming), citizenship assistance, women’s empowerment, microfinance, and water and sanitation projects.

In 2003 Jawat Jalo had access to about one acre of degraded, steep land situated between his house and a sluggish stream at the bottom of a hill.  Since this patch of land was unsuitable for growing traditional cash crops like corn and beans, Jawat decided to plant his own agroforest plot.  Since 1999, UHDP has promoted the establishment of bio-diverse agroforest plantings, particularly on steep, degraded land such as Jawat’s.  Plantings generally consist of native forest crops, such as rattan and wild pepper, which provide edible, useable, and marketable products.  More conventional crops such as banana, tea, coffee, and chili peppers are added to the plots to further supplement family food and income.

Since Jawat introduced the initial agroforest plantings, he has augmented the established trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs with other crops.  At first, his yields were just adequate for family consumption, but before long, he and the neighbors who had also adopted the agroforest method had enough to give away and sell in the community.  By 2007, it became clear that the combined volume of the area’s agroforest produce was enough to sustain a larger market, and in October Jawat met with dozens of other agroforesters from nearby villages to discuss marketing strategies.

Prior to the meeting, Jawat had begun selling his own agroforest produce at the weekly market in the town of Chiang Dao.  Having attracted customers with his specialty produce, Jawat had already made over $100 from his sales.  He was on track to sell at least four times that amount within a year’s time–a windfall for a community where a family’s annual income is less than $1,000.

But rather than trying to protect his market turf, Jawat used the community meeting to encourage all of the local agroforesters to sell their produce collectively at the Chiang Dao market.  He even offered to coordinate the collection and sale of products each week.

Jawat doesn’t specifically know about the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger, the Christian Life Commission, or the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  But he and thousands of other neighbors of spread across eighteen marginalized communities in northern Thailand do know UHDP’s team of hilltribe Christians and their willingness to assist them in overcoming poverty in Jesus’ name.  And that’s what the TBOWH has made possible–enabling a multitude of Baptists around the world to be the presence of Christ wherever they are.

>> Please Donate to the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger.

Public Policy Update
Texans Against Gambling
Long-time coalition partner in the fight against the expansion of gambling in Texas, Texans Against Gambling (TAG), has a newly redesigned website and a new initiative to combat the forces of gambling expansion in Texas. The website www.texansagainstgambling.org has very helpful information about many forms of gambling and their true cost to our state. The website also contains a long list of Austin lobbyists paid to promote gambling in the state.

Texans Against Gambling has started an online petition for those who oppose the sale of the lottery. Please let your voice be heard by sending a message to the legislature and the governor opposing the idea and sign the petition today.    http://texansagainstgambling.org/volunteer.aspx

On Wednesday, August 27, TAG representative Weston Ware testified before a Senate committee during an interim hearing regarding the possible sale of the Texas Lottery to a private company. Mr. Ware warned against such a sale continuing the trend of unfulfilled promises by the gambling industry and predicted a call for further gambling expansion in the future to boost revenue. You can view a video of the hearing here.  (http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchive/) Click on the second Joint Hearing: Senate Committee on State Affairs, Senate Finance Subcommittee on General Government Issues panel begins at 2 hours 54 min.) Suzii Paynter, Director of the Christian Life Commission and Rob Kohler, a gambling consultant with the CLC also testified and warned of possible problems of any sale or lease of the lottery.

New Texas Lottery Game Promotes Adult Website
The Texas Lottery Commission came under fire and intense media scrutiny recently when it was discovered that a new scratch off game, Slingo, directs players to visit a website with adult content. Along with an adult social networking feature, the site allows users to gamble with fake money with the chance of winning an entry for a sweepstakes for real prize money.

Two TV news broadcasts picked up the story and Rob Kohler, CLC gambling consultant appears in each. An ad for the Slingo website appeared on the Texas Lottery homepage but was removed after these stories aired. However, each scratch off Slingo ticket directs players to visit the website. You can watch video of each of the stories here: 

Bible in Public Schools – Texas Attorney General Rules Courses Are Not Mandatory For Every School
On Thursday, August 28 Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott resolved a lingering question regarding the impact of the Bible in public schools bill passed during the last legislative session. The AG ruled that school districts are not required to offer a separate elective course or courses on the Bible but that each district must include some instruction on religious literature in existing courses. The opinion interprets an inconsistency in the bill where one section states that school districts may offer the course but in another section lists “religious literature, including the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament,” as  part of the required enrichment curriculum.

The ultimate affect of the new law is still uncertain. It is clear that school districts will now need to offer some instruction on religious literature; whether that instruction is integrated into existing courses or new courses are offered is left to the discretion of each school district. If school districts choose to offer a separate course or courses on the Bible they must follow the guidelines set forth in the law to be eligible for state funding of textbooks once the State Board of Education creates a list of approved textbooks.

The next critical component to insuring a good course is the comprehensive and detailed teacher training required by law. Robert Scott, the Commissioner of Education for the Texas Education Agency, has said that the TEA is not currently working on training materials because no funding appropriated by the legislature to develop the training. 

>> Read the entire Attorney General opinion (pdf)

Suzii PaynterThe sod of the Texas State Cemetery is soft, well-watered and carpeted with grass. On August 23rd Warneta Overton was interred as the second African American woman in the cemetery. (The first was Barbara Jordan.) Mrs. Overton’s distinguished service to the state of Texas was as an advocate for civil rights with her husband Volma.  She was rarely outspoken, but she was a tower of strength and a grounded, unmovable presence as she stood by her young daughter who became the plaintiff for the case that would desegregate public schools in central Texas.  The distinguished service of her life was improbable, yet is itself a teacher and encouragement that our callings to justice extend beyond a single life. We think about these lofty things in cemeteries.

The honor of distinguished service, however, is not without a cost. It comes with an echo of sacrifice, focus, commitment, perseverance (when you have second thoughts) and often the knowledge that you are being opposed strongly for the time being.  This month the Christian Life Commission will honor two outstanding leaders with the Christian Life Commission Distinguished Service Award: Dr Bill Tillman, T.B. Maston Professor of Ethics, Logsdon Seminary  and Dr. Tony Campolo, Professor Emeritus, Eastern University, Pittsburgh, sociologist, writer, media commentator. These two men are vital and compelling witnesses of ethical Christian leadership within our Baptist family. They represent lessons that are carried in human form.  In a recent book, Twentieth Century Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics, by Larry McSwain and Lloyd Allen (Mercer Press, 2008) twentieth century Baptist ethical leaders are described as those who have “looked at the world and heard the call of God to change its economic structures, its social sin, its political injustices, its racial inequalities, its family dysfunctions, its tendencies to violence – its corporate sin.”  Dr. Tillman and Tony Campolo have been active passionate people striving to change the world in obedience to their interpretation of the biblical vision. 

Take time to celebrate these two most recent honorees and remember others who have been recipients of the Distinguished Service Award (including Barbara Jordan, by the way). These are touchable, human, imperfect, but prophetic leaders. By retelling their stories and calling to mind their sometimes difficult but life changing contributions we are continuously taught.  The power of human lives, lived in God’s call, bestows on us gifts of strength to reconcile the world with our interpretation of the biblical vision. McSwain and Allen comment on the importance of the connections in Baptist life “the story of Baptist ethical consciousness is more than the story of the impact of isolated individuals…we (the authors) were struck by the web of relationships that ties them to each other, to a variety of Baptist institutions and to us.” They implore us to keep making human connections.

For the CLC Distinguished Service Award, Dr. Bill Tillman is recognized especially for furthering the synergy of biblical ethics and social activism in the Maston tradition. He will be honored at a Chapel Service and luncheon at Logsdon Seminary, Abilene, September 4, 2008.  Dr. Tony Campolo is recognized especially for tireless, provocative, and powerful preaching to the Body of Christ and the broader society and for modeling a faithful evangelical engagement of social action and political involvement. His Distinguished Service Award will be given at the Christian Ethics Today Conference at Truett Seminary, Sept, 16, 2008. Hope to see you there. http://www.christianethicstoday.com/

How Can You Tell if a Friend or Family Member Has a Problem with Alcohol or Drug?

10 Warning Signs: 

If your friend or loved one has several of these behavioral warning signs, they may have a problem with substance abuse.

  1. getting high on drugs or getting drunk on a regular basis
  2. lying about the amount of alcohol or drugs they are using
  3. avoiding sober friends and family in order to get high or drunk
  4. changing social activities which were previously important
  5. getting into trouble with the law
  6. believing that they need to drink or to get high in order to have fun
  7. feeling hopeless, depressed or suicidal
  8. changing quality of performance at school or work
  9. changing peer group, behavior and even clothing style
  10. taking risks such as sexually acting out and driving under the influence of alcohol

If these signs are evident in a loved one’s life it’s important to get a substance abuse evaluation and seek help from a trained professional.

Reading List

  • The Twelve Steps:  A Spiritual Journey Workbook, published by RPI
  • A Hunger for Healing, Keith Miller
  • Life Recovery Bible
  • Addiction and Grace, Gerald May
  • Life’s Hidden Addictions, Archibald Hart
  • Reclaiming your Family from Addiction, Craig Nakken
  • The Addictive Personality, Craig Nakken
  • The Big Book Unplugged, John R. (Adolescent Guide to AA)
  • Marijuana:  What’s a Parent to Believe, Timmen Cermaic
  • Alcohol:  What’s a Parent to Believe, Stephen Biddulph
  • AA/NA Big Book
  • Broken, William Cope Moyers

Red Ribbon WeekIn schools across Texas this fall, students and teachers will observe Red Ribbon week during October 20-24.  Communities will be planning prevention and education programs to communicate to students regarding the dangers of alcohol and other drugs.

The Christian Life Commission is sponsoring Recovery Sunday on October 19 to encourage churches in Texas to highlight the issues of addiction, recovery, and prevention.  In addition, Recovery Sunday gives Texas Baptists an opportunity to affirm and encourage our students and teachers in their ongoing struggle against drugs and alcohol.

Red Ribbon week grew out of an effort to honor the memory of a DEA agent named KiKi Camarena who died in Mexico investigating a major drug cartel.  Following his death, friends and family began to wear red ribbons to honor his memory.  This tradition has developed into a national campaign to address the issues of prevention and education.  Beginning this fall, the CLC will help congregations to promote Recovery Sunday through providing educational, sermonic, and promotional resources.

Please join us as we encourage churches across Texas to confront the issues of addiction in our congregations and communities.  We encourage you to wear your red ribbon during the week of October 20-24 to show your support as students and teachers take a stand against substance abuse in their schools.  www.drugpreventionresources.com

Imagine a young person, a good kid who has caring parents, sitting in church on Sunday morning.  Last night, he was out with his friends, and the group started passing around marijuana.  For a year he has turned it down, but last night he tried it for the first time.  Sitting now in the worship service, he is afraid of his family finding out and even more afraid of what he might do the next time.  His concern is real, and he is a member of your church.

On the other side of the sanctuary, a business executive is worried that his social drinking is getting out of hand.  Last night, he got lost on the way home and was afraid that he would be arrested and charged with a DWI.  He is afraid of what could have happened and what might happen the next time.  His concern is real, and he is a member of your church. 

The reality of addiction in the United States is that on any given Sunday morning, there are significant numbers of people in church who are dealing with substance abuse issues, either their own or a family member’s.  In a recent survey, an estimated 15.9 million Americans twelve years or age or older are identified as current drug users.  In addition, almost half of all Americans twelve years of age or older (109 million persons) are current drinkers.  Behind every statistic is a person who is loved by God and who may be looking for answers.

What can a church do? Most importantly, don’t pretend that substance abuse is not a real issue in your congregation. Move from denial to action. Create an atmosphere of loving acceptance which invites people in need to share their concerns and to seek help.

Consider sponsoring support groups for recovering persons and their families, offering a drug abuse prevention curriculum for young people and their parents, and/or supporting statewide drug abuse drug prevention emphases like Red Ribbon Week. Every congregation can do something to help, so above all else, do something.

This article is available to be used by churches as a bulletin insert for Recovery Sunday and can be downloaded from the CLC web page http://www.bgct.org/texasbaptists/Document.Doc?&id=2823