Paul L. Caron

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Sarkar: Internal Revenue's External Borders

Shayak Sarkar (UC-Davis; Google Scholar), Internal Revenue's External Borders, 112 Calif. L. Rev __ (2024):

California law reviewThe mandate of tax agencies seems clear: to secure revenue for the government and ensure taxpayer compliance. Yet for decades, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has regularly facilitated violent immigration enforcement. Scholars and the public have paid significant attention to the state and local policing of immigration law. But the role of tax bureaucrats as generals—no mere foot soldiers—has largely been overlooked.

This Article corrects that oversight. Building on emerging critiques of the tax system, I first describe tax-agency leadership in immigration raids, holding the dry mechanics of agency procedures against stark examples of IRS complicity in civil rights violations. I then raise several concerns about tax-agency involvement in immigration enforcement. After describing the tax-law origins of immigration raids’ constitutional exceptionalism, I assess residual constraints on tax-agency involvement: taxpayer privacy, regulatory suppression, and civil rights liability.

Finally, I propose reforms to better align tax-agency efforts with their revenue-generating mission and to protect immigrants caught in the crosshairs. Those reforms include redesigning criminal tax investigations, crafting interagency agreements, and providing immigration relief. The collaboration of such disparate agencies—here the IRS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—reminds us of administrative cooperation’s hidden costs.

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