Rep. Ted Poe: Tax money that immigrants send to foreign countries

U.S. officials should “charge a fee” for immigrants who work in the United States and send money back to their home countries, a Texas Republican suggested Wednesday.

“Shouldn’t the United States charge a fee, one percent, for these transactions to occur?” Rep. Ted Poe said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “Specifically foreign workers in the U.S. sending money back to Mexico and any other country where those remittances go each year so that part of that income generated in the United States says in the United States, so that the taxpayers don’t have to pick up the difference of that $138 billion, with a small fee.”

Poe derived those figures from a recent PEW Research Center report on worldwide remittances; the report assessed that about $28 billion was sent from the United States to Mexico in 2016 — more than any other country. The revenue is a cause of migration from the southern neighbor, Poe suggested; he noted also that China ranks second on the remittance list (estimated to have received $15.4 billion in 2016).

“We’re sending a lot of money, economic development money, from the United States to Mexico and a lot of other countries,” Poe said. “It’s no surprise that the Mexican government has long supported more people coming to the United States by any means so that remittances can go back to their nation.”

The administration officials present demurred when asked for their opinion on the proposed fee.

“I think that’s an interesting thought — I think that could potentially be a subject for legislation should you decide to go that route,” Kenneth Merten, an ambassador in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told Poe.

Those fees could be counterproductive, an official from the U.S. Agency for International Development suggested.

“I also think it’s very interesting,” said Sarah-Ann Lynch, USAID’s senior deputy administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean. “I think we’d have to do further analysis. I know sometimes remittances are something that we look at as a way that we reduce foreign assistance. But we would be happy to look at this and analyze it.”

And remittances from the United States can provide revenue needed for government investments that the State Department hopes will diminish the desire for migration to the United States.

“Strong infrastructure – reliable roads, ports, and electrical grids – is a key component of strong economic growth,” then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in June of 2017, when he opened the Conference for Prosperity and Security in Central America. “Central America will welcome an estimated 25 million new urban dwellers over the next 30 years. As cities expand, they will need to provide basic additional services and infrastructure. The private sector should consider how to partner with the governments to address these needs.”

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