WASHINGTON — US citizen kids whose parents are undocumented immigrants filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Tuesday challenging their exclusion from a coronavirus relief program that Congress intended to benefit children.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, eligible families can receive up to $500 for each child under 17, in addition to the $1,200 maximum payment available to individual adults.
But the Trump administration and Congress won’t pay out CARES Act money to undocumented immigrant parents for their US citizen children. The children named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Maryland, using their initials, are between seven months and nine years old. Their parents paid federal and state taxes, and would otherwise meet the income-based criteria for being eligible for relief funds, per court papers.
“The refusal to distribute this benefit to U.S. citizen children undermines the CARES Act’s goal 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,” lawyers for the children and their families wrote in the complaint.
Under the CARES Act, families are only eligible for the relief money if every person covered by a tax return has a “valid identification number,” which the law defines as a Social Security number. Undocumented immigrants typically don’t have Social Security numbers, but they can still pay taxes using what’s known as an individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN.
The US citizen children of undocumented immigrants have Social Security numbers, but minors can’t file tax returns by themselves, which means they depend on a parent being eligible for the coronavirus stimulus money in order to benefit.
Children in these homes are especially vulnerable because their parents aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits and are more likely to work in industries hit hard during the pandemic, such as food services, cleaning, retail, and child care, lawyers from the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center, which brought the case, argued in court papers. The lawsuit notes that undocumented immigrants can access other federal benefits programs for US citizen children, including the federal child tax credit, food stamps, welfare, and housing benefits.
The lawsuit alleges that the denial of relief money to children in these circumstances is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment because the children are being discriminated against and treated differently from other US citizen children.
At least two other lawsuits have been filed so far against the administration for denying CARES Act relief funds to taxpaying couples where one person doesn’t have a Social Security number. Although some of the families named in those cases have children, they aren’t named as plaintiffs.