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MSU College of Law

August 19, 2013

CONTACT: Kent Love, director of communications, 517-432-6959;

MSU Law Tax Clinic Students Help Northern Michigan Migrant Workers

Michigan State University College of Law students took the Mobile Tax Clinic to Northern Michigan in early August to provide legal services to migrant workers who had been unfairly taxed. The students traveled to Petoskey and Harbor Springs during the trip.

Four student clinicians, along with Tax Clinic Public Interest Fellow Christina Thompson, Housing Clinic Fellow Michael Siracuse, and Office Manager Jesse Alvarez, served about 25 migrant workers—agricultural workers who spend six to eight months in the United States, and typically are supporting family members who remain in Mexico.

“The workers earn roughly $12,000 to $18,000 per year, but due to erroneous additional tax charged on their wages when filing their tax returns, they were losing thousands of hard-earned dollars,” said Thompson. “We became involved [about a year ago] to help them amend their returns and receive a refund of the money they were improperly charged.”

The purpose of the trip was two-fold. It was the first time many of the student clinicians and worker clients had met in person after working together, in some cases, for more than a year. It also was an opportunity to update workers on the status of their cases, confirm appropriate reimbursements, and answer additional questions.

“Most of the workers started on their H2A [agricultural] visa around 2009, and when they tried to comply with tax laws, were incorrectly charged thousands of dollars. Because they generally do not speak English and are not familiar with our tax system, they were unaware of the mistaken tax. This forced them to send less money home to family, creating a large financial strain for themselves and their families,” said Thompson.   

The student clinicians were aided by two translators from Farmworker Legal Services.

The student clinicians and faculty supervisors from the MSU Tax Clinic will continue their efforts to help people better understand the tax system, and ensure they are being treated fairly by the law’s standards. Another trip to northern Michigan is already being planned.

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