UI group hosts event to help Spanish-speaking tax filers
Soon, Mario Camacho will be able to file his taxes.
He can't wait.
The Urbana man moved to the United States from Mexico more than four years ago and has been actively working toward U.S. citizenship.
On Sunday, Camacho attended a free event offering assistance in Spanish for people filing taxes or registering for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN – an identifying number for people who don't qualify for a Social Security number.
The event, organized by a University of Illinois student group called La Colectiva, was held in the Centro de la Communidad, a Latino community center at Shadowwood Mobile Homes in north Champaign.
"In this area, there's not too many providers (of tax services) that speak Spanish," said Erendira Rendon, a UI sophomore. "We're most concerned about getting people ready to do taxes."
The UI group brought tax representatives from the Midwest Tax Clinic to lend their expertise. The organization has helped file taxes for about 28,000 lower income people this year, thanks to grants from the Illinois Department of Human Services and State Farm Insurance, said Larry Garner, assistant director of the Tax Counseling Project at the Center for Economic Progress.
For three hours, Garner and Jason Turner of the Urban League helped file forms and led people through the tax process.
The entire time, they were kept busy, with people filling the trailer and lining up outside to wait for assistance. Caroline Phelps notarized documents. Bilingual students helped translate paperwork into Spanish and communicate the tax process.
Garner said the event was especially important because the people who attended might have been scared to go anywhere else for help because of their language barrier or immigration status.
"They might be afraid to go to H&R Block, they're afraid to go to Urban League," he said. "They're generally clients that don't have identification numbers."
Garner said immigrants' tax records can have a large impact in whether they are able to become legal citizens.
"They pay taxes either way," he said. "If you are someone who has filed timely tax returns every year you've been in this country ... you have a greater chance."
Camacho, like about 40 other people that day, filed ITIN forms, and is excited about finishing the paperwork. That ITIN number will allow him to get a bank account, file taxes and be a larger part of American society.
"We pay taxes, but we never get back the (services)," Camacho said.
Irene Gonzalez of Urbana came to the event to get help in Spanish preparing her taxes, and she's glad she did, despite owing money this year.
"It's the first time that I've seen something like it," she said, through a translator. "I learned a lot that I didn't know."