Culture & Conversation Law and Policy

I’m an Undocumented Taxpayer. Here’s How My Taxes Are Used Against My Values.

Layidua Salazar

The government regularly uses our tax contributions to fund the deportation or incarceration of our family members and to pass laws making health care more difficult to access.

Tax Day is here and with it comes the reminder of my status in the United States as an undocumented taxpayer—meaning someone who doesn’t have a legal pathway to citizenship, despite having temporary protection from deportation and a work permit—and where the fight to fund my constitutionally protected reproductive rights truly stands.

I joined the workforce in 2003, when I was 17. Because I was ineligible for grants and financial aid as an undocumented student, I worked a full-time job to put myself through college. Since 2003, I have filed taxes every year, yet I am ineligible to use many of the social services my taxes fund due to my documentation status.

It’s clear to me that taxes are an important part of our nation’s budget—the funds historically have ensured our communities have free K-12 schools, families have access to health-care coverage and food, and other essential programs, such as public transportation and subsidized housing for low-income families. But because of unjust policies, immigrants who are authorized to work in the United States—and contribute more than $220 billion in federal taxes and $100 billion in combined state and local taxes—are not entitled to those same benefits.

Our nation’s budget—funded by federal, state, local, and sales taxes—is an indicator of our priorities. More and more it’s clear that funding the military, artificial border walls, and jails are more of a priority for lawmakers than ensuring all U.S. residents have access to food, housing, education, and health care, including abortion.

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Beyond its blanket denial of access to undocumented immigrants, lawmakers cut many citizens off from critical services thanks to decades-old policies like the Hyde Amendment, a rider attached to federal spending bills. The Hyde Amendment excludes abortion from the comprehensive health coverage the federal government provides through Medicaid insurance, offering exceptions only for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. And with the support of conservative lawmakers in Congress, the amendment unjustly denies abortion insurance coverage to federally detained and incarcerated people; disabled individuals on Medicare; low-income Washington, D.C., residents; Peace Corps volunteers; federal employees and their dependents; and military personnel and their dependents. Talk about taxation without representation!

The Hyde Amendment disproportionately hurts low-income people and people of color, and, as research shows, forces one in four women to carry a pregnancy to term that they otherwise would have terminated.

Unfortunately, even as state legislators pressure people to continue their pregnancies, due to stringent abortion laws, they are not offering resources to help those same individuals raise their families. Some states have reallocated millions of taxpayer dollars from essential programs, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and funneled the money to the over 4,000 fake clinics across the United States. These so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) lie to pregnant people about abortion and use troubling tactics to coerce people into keeping their pregnancies. Texas rerouted $20 million that was originally designated for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to anti-abortion CPCs, while Indiana offered them $3.5 million and Georgia allocated $2 million to them. Not only do these anti-choice, religiously affiliated organizations deliberately lie to people seeking abortions, in the case of Pennsylvania, they’re being investigated for abuse of state tax dollars.

It’s not just the use of our tax dollars to push medically inaccurate information that’s appalling, states like Ohio, Texas, Indiana, and Arizona have wastefully spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars defending anti-abortion laws in courts. These were tax dollars that could have supported health care and the comprehensive sexual health education folks need. Instead, President Trump’s 2019 proposed budget allocated $75 million toward abstinence-only education (which has proven to be ineffective in preventing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections), prohibited Department of Health and Human Services funding to health-care providers that also provide abortions, and declared that no federal funds allocated to Immigration and Customs Enforcement can be used to “to require any person to perform, or facilitate in any way the performance of, any abortion.

As a taxpayer, I believe it is a gross misuse of our funds to create more financial, logistical, and emotionally manipulative barriers to abortion care.

Thankfully, some states are moving to ensure that everyone is able to access reproductive health care, no matter their income, insurance source, or immigration status. Last year, Illinois passed a law allowing state Medicaid insurance to cover abortion care, and Oregon expanded their state Medicaid insurance to cover abortion care and undocumented families. As a California resident, I am happy to live in a state that uses my tax dollars to cover health care and support those enrolled in MediCal, the state’s Medicaid program, who need or want abortions. I believe no one should ever feel forced to carry a pregnancy to term due to lack of funding.

Yet, as we see at ACCESS Women’s Health Justice—the California abortion fund where I serve on the board of directors—many residents still have a hard time making ends meet due to transportation challenges, their immigration statuses, and other logistical barriers to abortion. I know how critical those funds are because I had to navigate those same barriers when I had an abortion a few years ago. Public funding of abortion won’t solve all of the barriers to access, but it could significantly reduce financial barriers for marginalized communities.

Those who support the Hyde Amendment often decry that they don’t want their tax dollars to pay for abortions, yet ignore the plight of those of us who pay into a system that denies us use of any social benefits we, like anyone who falls into hard times in the United States, might need. Worse, the government regularly uses our tax contributions to fund the deportation or incarceration of our family members and pass laws making health care more difficult to access. The money we earn is used against us. This is the burden of undocumented taxpayers.

Abortion is health care and public funding should be available for it. This is why every April, I join the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon to raise critical funds to cover the costs of accessing an abortion, including transportation, housing, and meals. Across the country, abortion funders are fundraising and donating their tax refunds in a sign of solidarity. We believe committing tax refunds to help pay for abortions is one way to redistribute wealth and fill the gaps in the health system that our government created and refuses to solve.

For me, it is frustrating to pay into a system of programs that I am not able to participate in. In order to create the compassionate communities we deserve, all of us have to step up and demonstrate the path forward. And for me, that’s putting my tax dollars where my values are, even when the United States won’t do the same for me.

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