U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) and Congressman Tom Price, M.D. (R-Ga.) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the federal government’s watchdog, urging them to review remittances being sent to another country by illegal immigrants. 

They also request GAO to review the benefits of Vitter’s Remittance Status Verification. Vitter’s legislation would require a fee on remittances for customers who wire money to another country but cannot prove that they are in the United States legally; the fee would be used to enhance border security.

“The Obama administration has shown complete incompetence when it comes to securing our borders and complete disinterest in enforcing our immigration laws – and it’s costing us a lot of money,” Vitter said. “This GAO report should help us know exactly how much money illegal immigrants are sending out of the U.S. – money they haven’t paid income taxes on. My legislation would help us figure out how many foreign workers are here illegally and make them pay for wiring money back home.”

In 2006, GAO noted that the United States was the largest remittance-sending country in the world, with a majority of funds sent to Latin America and the Caribbean, and substantial amounts sent to Asia and Africa. Nearly $38 billion was remitted by foreign-born residents in the United States to households abroad, and estimates have shown that $25 billion a year comes from illegals.

Here's part of the letter:

I am requesting that GAO conduct an assessment of the data attempting to capture the remitting behavior of the foreign born population in the United States. And, data limitation notwithstanding, I would ask GAO to provide whatever insight is possible on the workability of the Wire Act, including assessment of the potential net benefits considering the cost of compliance, impact on remitters and the additional funds available to pursue immigration enforcement. Specifically I would like GAO to:

  1. Update the 2006 GAO Report, as appropriate, to determine the limitation inherent in the estimates on remittances from the United States.
  2. Expand the report to assess of the potential benefits of the S.1176 (WIRE Act) including:
    1. An assessment of the potential fee income generated by the fine after  the potential administrative and enforcement costs to the Bureau
    2. An assessment of whether the additional cost to U.S. based remittance service providers would be minimal due to the already existing procedures regarding validating ID’s for other services offered.
    3. Any other potential impacts relevant to assessing benefits and cost

 The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, June 2014 report found that for a large portion of those who received federal or state benefits, inconsistencies related to citizenship, national status or lawful presence in the United States were unresolved. While under existing confines it may be too burdensome for GAO to compare the data source to the current report, GAO should consider the information in its evaluation as a potential indicator of the number of undocumented immigrants receiving some type of US benefits and also remitting money abroad and attempt to assess the size of this population.

Lastly, some case studies from a 2010 Financial Action Task Force report suggest that money remittance businesses, particularly smaller service providers, have been unintentional and intentional participants in money laundering activities across the globe, creating the potential for regulatory and or enforcement challenges.[5] If possible, GAO should include in its report a section highlighting potential illicit use of these types of transfers including:

  1. 1.      Money laundering risk posed by the money remittance service providers,
  2. 2.      The controls and regulations in place to mitigate illicit finance through money service businesses in the United States, and
  3. 3.      Whether structuring or “smurfing” (to avoid mandatory threshold or customer identification requirements) would be easier to address with information provided by the Wire Act. 

I believe GAO’s work will shed appropriate light on remittance activity in the United States as well as any impacts the proposed legislation might have, including targeting illegal alien accessing the U.S. financial system to discourage noncompliance with U.S. immigration laws and helping fund the cost of enforcement of our immigration laws. Thank you for your prompt attention to this request and we look forward to working with you as you move forward on this study.