Posted on May 6, 2020

US Citizen Spouses and Children of Unauthorized Immigrants Were Shut Out of Stimulus Relief. Now They’re Suing.

Nicole Narea, Vox, May 6, 2020

Immigrant advocates are arguing in court that American citizens who are married to unauthorized immigrants should still be eligible for stimulus checks along with their children.

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, gives most taxpayers up to $1,200 and $500 for each of their children under the age of 17. But even if they pay taxes, unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for the stimulus checks, which the government started sending out in April. Neither is anyone else in their household, including their spouses and children, even if their spouses and children are US citizens.

Advocates from Georgetown Law and Villanova Law filed a class action lawsuit in Maryland federal court on Wednesday challenging the CARES Act on behalf of seven US citizen children of unauthorized immigrant taxpayers. They argued that it unfairly discriminates against these children based on their parents’ immigration status and denies them equal protection under the law in violation of the US Constitution’s due process clause.

Immigrant advocates at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund also filed a lawsuit last week arguing that the CARES Act is unconstitutional because it “discriminates against mixed-status couples.”

“The refusal to distribute this benefit to US citizen children undermines the CARES Act’s goals of providing assistance to Americans in need, frustrates the Act’s efforts to jumpstart the economy, and punishes citizen children for their parents’ status — punishment that is particularly nonsensical given that undocumented immigrants, collectively, pay billions of dollars each year in taxes,” Mary McCord, legal director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said in a statement.

How the CARES Act penalizes unauthorized immigrants and their families

The bill excludes those in households with people of mixed immigration status, where some tax filers or their children may use what’s called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

The IRS issues ITINs to unauthorized immigrants so they can pay taxes, even though they don’t have a Social Security number. If anyone in the household uses an ITIN — either a spouse or a dependent child — that means no one in the household will qualify for the stimulus checks unless one spouse served in the military in 2019.

If the law is allowed to stand, it could impact an estimated 16.7 million people who live in mixed-status households nationwide, including 8.2 million US-born or naturalized citizens.

The exclusion for mixed-status households defies current practices: Many other federal programs are designed in such a way that US citizen children of unauthorized immigrants can access necessary benefits, including the child tax credit, food stamps, housing assistance, welfare benefits, and benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

But there is a precedent for this kind of exclusion. Amid the global financial crisis in 2008, Congress handed out tax rebates to most American taxpayers, except for the spouses of immigrants who didn’t have Social Security numbers.