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Immigrants lost refunds, lawsuits claim

SANTA FE – Immigrants’ rights groups sued the Martinez administration in state court on Thursday, alleging it is wrongfully denying refunds to some immigrants who file state tax returns.

Two lawsuits filed in state District Court in Santa Fe allege the Taxation and Revenue Department since 2012 has denied refunds to thousands of people who use individual tax identification numbers – or ITINs – when they file their state returns.

According to the lawsuits, the plaintiffs got tax refunds for years while using ITINs on their returns, until the department changed its policy in 2012.

Marcela Diaz, director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said it was part of a pattern by the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez to “single out and punish hardworking immigrants.”

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The organization filed the lawsuits along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and an Albuquerque law firm.

MALDEF successfully sued the administration in 2011 to force a halt to the same department’s policy of requiring immigrants with driver’s licenses to reverify their identity and residency status.

Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla called the lawsuits “a bogus political charade” and said returns are flagged when they are accompanied by W-2 forms with fraudulent Social Security numbers.

“They’re asking us to turn a blind eye when illegal immigrants seek tax refunds using tax returns that have fraudulent Social Security numbers. That’s ridiculous,” Padilla said in a statement.

The immigrant advocacy groups, however, maintained that refunds have been withheld from immigrants who have consistently used their ITINs on all documents and there is no discrepancy involving Social Security numbers.

The nearly identical lawsuits filed Thursday name as plaintiffs two Santa Fe residents, Gladys Cobos and L. Roberto Sanchez, and a married couple from Farmington identified only as Jane and John Doe.

Cobos, an accountant who spoke at a news conference, said she never had any problem paying taxes until the department changed its policy.

The lawsuits allege the state wrongly failed to process refund claims, didn’t credit the plaintiffs for taxes paid through withholding, and assessed additional taxes on plaintiffs they didn’t owe.

ITINs are taxpayer identification numbers assigned by the Internal Revenue Service to those obligated to file tax returns but not eligible for Social Security numbers.

The Taxation and Revenue Department has been automatically suspending returns with ITINs and sending letters requiring supporting documents, although in many cases the returns remain suspended even though documents are provided, the lawsuits allege.

According to the Taxation and Revenue Department, more than 27,000 letters have been sent out since 2012.

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