Local News

Debate Heats Up Over Lottery Winnings For Illegal Immigrants

Posted April 14, 2006

— Immigration reform rallies continue to attract people around the country. But the latest debate is not about whether North Carolina's 300,000 illegal immigrants should get to stay. It is whether or not they should be allowed to win the lottery.

The odds are long, but if you are 18 and win North Carolina's Education Lottery, there is almost nothing to stop you from collecting. As long as you claim your money within the set timeframe and prove who you are, the prize is yours.

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    "There's nothing to prohibit aliens or illegal aliens from purchasing or claiming a prize,' said N.C. Lottery spokesperson Pam Walker.

    Walker said all winners must show identification for tax purposes. The federal government takes 25 percent from a documented resident's prize, and 30 percent from undocumented winners. Back taxes and child support are also deducted.

    "I think if you're not a legal resident or a person here illegally, you should not be allowed to win the lottery," said Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake.

    Hunt voted against the North Carolina Lottery Act. Now, he wants to change it, to ensure all proceeds go to education and all winnings go to legal residents.

    That philosophy clashes with sentiment at recent immigration rallies. Demonstrators want to help immigrants get documented, not take away more rights.

    "Well, I would hate to think people are so obsessed with the legal status of a person that they would absolutely worry about everything," said demonstrator Maria Rouphail.

    Right now, it is no real worry if undocumented residents win. But lawmakers plan to take a closer look at the lottery, and immigration status could come up.

    South Carolina is now debating a bill to ban illegal immigrants from winning the lottery. However, someone can simply turn over a winning ticket to a legal resident to cash it in.

    The N. C. Lottery also has no policy to report any undocumented winners to immigration authorities. Few states have an outright ban on jackpots for illegal immigrants, but it is possible the attention from their win could attract federal authorities. An illegal immigrant who won a $2 million prize in California was arrested just two days after he won. He was deported to Mexico a few weeks later, with his money.

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