Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group

Llewellyn King: An immigration fix that can be done now

I was once interested in buying a historic mansion in Virginia. It was a classic, but it needed a lot of work. It was being sold by a bank and, for a whole afternoon, my wife and I dreamed of owning it.

It was on the market because the previous owner, who had bought it to restore it, had gone broke. His mistake was that he had tried to do the whole job at once: the wiring, the plumbing, the plastering, the floors. Too much.

Had he done what other restorers would have done in similar situations, gone about restoration piece by piece, he would be the proprietor of a remarkable antebellum home today.

Some big jobs need to be done one thing at a time.

Immigration reform may be such a big job; so big it demands to be done in pieces, fixing what is fixable in the short term while the great issues -- who, from where and how many -- wait for another day and a calmer political climate.

To me, the most fixable is the plight of those who are already here: the 11 million illegal residents, predominantly from Central America.

They are here. They are people who succumbed to the basic human desire to better themselves and provide more for their families. They are illegal but they are not evil. They broke the law to find a better, safer life — the same motivation that brought people from Europe to these shores for five centuries.

Laws are made by people; human need and human aspiration are primal. We, American citizens (except those whose ancestors were transported in slavery), are the product of the same aspiration that has brought most illegal immigrants to live among us: to work hard, to raise families and to live in peace. Statistically, they are slightly more law-abiding than those who would have them gone by deportation. They are a vital new population of artisans -- skilled manual workers.

The Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group (ITIG) and its tireless founder, Mark Jason, a former IRS inspector and Reagan Republican, attracted my attention six years ago because it had a ready answer for those who are illegal but otherwise blameless.

Jason wants illegal immigrants to be given a 10-year, renewable work permit with a special tax provision: There would be a 5 percent tax levied on employers and a 5 percent tax paid by the worker – what Jason calls “five plus five.” The billions of dollars raised by the program would be earmarked for the neighborhoods where the illegals are concentrated to alleviate the burdens they impose on education, health care, policing and other social services.

Notably, his Malibu, Calif.-based group’s program has no amnesty in the usual sense; no path to citizenship, not even an entitlement to lifetime abode.

Jason has poured his personal fortune into a lobbying effort on behalf of the ITIG program, including congressional briefings and information sessions.

To me, the program would solve an immediate problem: It would end the massive deportations — so fundamentally un-American -- which have gone on through four administrations. It would allow families to come out from behind the curtain of fear -- fear in the knowledge that tonight might be their last night of hope, of a united a family and of a livable wage. In the morning (the favored time for arrests), the state could come down on hope and love with the dreaded knock on the door; paradise lost.

The Jason work-permit program is one room in the immigration edifice that could be renovated now, and with benefit rather than cost. The deportations cost in every way: They cost in lives shattered, ICE teams, deportation centers, court hearings, talented labor lost, and finally transportation to places now alien to most of those headed there as deportees – hapless and more or less stateless. There is a fix at hand.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is

Llewellyn King: A third way out of the U.S. immigration mess

To me, there is something especially savage and cruel about deportations. It reminds of what I saw in colonial Africa, or in South Africa, or touring the Auschwitz concentration camp. Armed men and women coming by surprise to rip apart a family, to condemn people to a future they had braved so much to escape, evokes all the horrors of history. The rough brutality of one person taking charge of another appalls, twists the gut and stops heart.

Even if sanctioned by law, the unfettered power of the state and its officers moving against an individual is profoundly ugly. The fact that those seized have broken the law doesn’t seem, in most cases, to justify ending the order and hope of their modest lives.

Yet I don’t believe any nation should allow conquest by immigration that is a threat to one’s culture, one’s language and one’s own sense of place. I believe  that there should be legal immigration, screened immigration. Our natural rate of population replenishment is inadequate.

Against the backdrop of vast shifting populations around the globe, the United States has only a modest problem. The illegal immigrant inflow, particularly across the southern border, has dwindled. So the issue is the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants who are here, have put down roots and are often raising American children.

Their fate is bitterly divisive: on one side, liberals and groups that speak for immigrants wanting amnesty and citizenship and on the other, conservatives demanding that our immigration laws are immutable, and the illegals must be arrested and deported.

Mark Jason, a retired IRS inspector from Malibu, Calif., looked at the problem from a taxman’s point of view through the Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group, which he founded in 2008.

Jason was concerned with the negative effect illegal immigrants were having on local communities, straining budgets and overwhelming social services. This kind of pressure has led many local entities to act against these people, denying them services, from driving licenses to schooling.

Jason knew from his research that many illegal immigrants, who came here to get a better, safer life, want eventually to return to their homelands. Trouble is they are immobilized in the United States, particularly if they have family here. If they visit their homelands, they can’t get back into the United States.

Jason believes a creative tax could defuse the illegal immigrant argument and stabilize life for what have become people of the shadows.

His plan, his third way, will:

—Grant all illegal immigrants who want to work a permit, called a REALcard (short for respect, equality, accountability and legality) that is valid for 10 years and renewable.

—Impose special taxes — 5 percent on the wages of the workers and 5 percent on the same wages to be paid by the employer — which would go to the hurting local communities.

Jason calculates that his tax will raise $210 billion over 10 years and that this money should be earmarked for communities hosting large numbers of immigrants.

For a decade, Jason has been imploring immigration groups, think tanks and Congress to consider his plan. Next week, he will be holding an information session on Capitol Hill to investigate various perspectives on immigration. His plan is to have a discussion on immigration focused on sound public policy, placing the interests of U.S. taxpayers first and treating all the stakeholders with respect.

I’ve known Jason for five years and have been astounded by the tenacity of this gentle Reagan Republican and his desire to do the right thing for those caught up in the immigration gyre, to relieve the acute artisan labor shortage, and to help counties and cities with their added illegal immigrant burdens — the new money going to education, health care, policing, jails and social services.

Legalize the illegal immigrants and some will go home early. Data show that about half will return eventually to their homelands.

To my mind, Jason’s self-funded Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group is offering a solid alternative to the bleak immigrant policy debate — and to the swinging door of the detention center. Illegal entry into the United States in law, so venerated by the deportation enthusiasts, is only a misdemeanor.

Families physically torn apart, deportation and ruin, is a severe penalty for a misdemeanor. Does it fit the crime when there is another way?

On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of
White House Chronicle, on PBS.


Llewellyn King: A third way on the immigration issue

Is there a big, new idea about immigration? Is there a way of looking at the issues beyond polarization? Is there a way of stabilizing the lives and the living conditions for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who hide in the shadows of society, living in fear, and costing the United States as much as $100 billion a decade in services and lost taxation revenue?

Is there a way of making those who employ undocumented workers, or those with dubious papers, from falling into unintended criminality themselves? Is there a “third way?”

The Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group (), based in Malibu, Calif., has been pondering the implications of taxation in the immigration debate. It was formally established as a not-for-profit foundation in 2010.

ITIG’s idea is big — a new front, in effect. It brings the immigrants out of the shadows, identifies them and gives them respect, while mitigating the impact on the rest of us. It also soothes those who want nothing to do with paths to citizenship.

As I understand it, the ITIG proposal is simple: cater to the illegal worker by issuing a 10-year, renewable work permit and taxing the employer at 5 percent of the wage for employing one of these workers. This would bring the undocumented worker, and his or her family, out of the shadows, provide revenue for their cost to society, and enable them to have dignity and security without citizenship. I can attest, from my own reporting, that not every immigrant wants citizenship and a vote.

The plan has been incubating for decades among a coterie of thinkers who want a practical humane solution to the problem.

Mark Jason, executive director of ITIG, knows something about immigrants. He was educated partly in Mexico and has worked there to improve conditions so fewer people will take the long walk north.

Over the years, Jason, has discussed his ideas with people as disparate as Ronald Reagan (a family friend, when Reagan was governor of California), Cesar Chavez, the National Farm Workers Association founder and leader, and recently retired Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Jason told me that Reagan was interested, although this was before he became president and enacted his own immigration plan in 1986, which was straight amnesty. Chavez, he said, was more concerned with conditions in the fields than with the legal status of immigrants, partly because many farm workers come on contract. Waxman, who was a prolific legislator, liked Jason’s ideas and encouraged him to “think big.”

The ITIG plan is put forward in a detailed report on the Web, complete with revenue projections in graphs and charts.

Jason has worked as a tax consultant, an IRS agent and a farmer in Mexico, where he helped establish a honeydew melon farm near Puerto Vallarta. The farm has three missions: produce and export melons (350 tons in 2014), teach the local farmers better practices, and end the incentive to leave.

What frustrates Jason is the difficulty he has had in getting his ideas circulated in the immigration debate. Although the report by ITIG is detailed and clearly represents an important new dimension in the debate, it has not yet gotten traction in Congress nor, more surprisingly, among immigrant advocacy groups.

The plan, under which workers would get a 10-year work permit, get drivers licenses where states allow it, and travel freely between the United States and their country of origin. It would also convey the benefits enjoyed by American families on the immigrant family, such as education and the protections of the law.

Jason is using his own resources to push the plan. “It is not a panacea, but a practical way to get people out of the shadows and into the economy,” he says.

He sees his plan as the solution not to the whole immigration dilemma but as a recognition of reality; as a way of protecting society from the cost of a shadow population. Jason believes it creates an asset where there is a liability — but real legal status is not changed.

Jason told me his wife fell in love with him because “she said I liked to fix things.”

Immigration is a big job for a handyman, but Mark Jason is at work.  

Llewellyn King ( is host and executive producer of ''White House Chronicle,'' on PBS, and a long-time publisher, journalist and international business consultant.