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Illegal immigrants could reap more than $7B in tax credits this year, senator says

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FILE: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., at a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Illegal immigrants could receive more than $7 billion this year in federal tax credits, according to one estimate, thanks to a loophole in the law that allows people not authorized to work to reap the government payments with no questions asked. 

Sen. Jeff Sessions' office calculated that, based on recent trends, illegal immigrants could receive roughly $7.4 billion through a provision known as the Additional Child Tax Credit. That's more than quadruple what the payout was four years ago, but the payments have been steadily increasing over the past decade. 

Though illegal immigrants are prohibited from receiving similar tax credits, a quirk in the law allows them to qualify for the child tax credit. And it's a "refundable" credit, meaning recipients can reap the money -- with average checks totaling about $1,800 -- even if they've paid no taxes.   

An aide to Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said the issue is a "serious matter that deserves attention" and another sign of how "Washington is disconnected from reality." 

Illegal immigrants can qualify because even people not authorized to work in the U.S. are supposed to file returns with the IRS. If they don't have a Social Security number, they are provided what's known as an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number in order to file returns. 

And those filers are not excluded from claiming the Additional Child Tax Credit, which is offered to some families with children under 17 years old. 

A report last year by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found the claims added up to $4.2 billion in 2010. Sessions' office calculated the $7.4 billion figure based on the IG report numbers and White House budget numbers. 

The IG report last year recommended that Congress pass legislation to "clarify" whether the tax credits should actually be paid to those not authorized to work in the U.S. 

Sessions co-sponsored a bill earlier this year to bar illegal immigrants from receiving the credit, but the bill was blocked from reaching the floor by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

Reid at the time said the bill targeted the children of low-income Hispanic families. 

Recent expansions to the credit under the stimulus law are set to expire at the end of the year.