WASHINGTON — A lawsuit filed by US citizen children whose undocumented immigrant parents were denied coronavirus stimulus checks can move forward after a judge rejected the Trump administration’s early attempt to get the case tossed out.
A federal judge in Maryland on Friday denied the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, finding the families had the standing to sue and rejecting arguments raised by the Justice Department that the administration was immune against these types of constitutional claims over how Congress and the Treasury Department chose to administer billions of dollars in relief money.
Under the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, families who are eligible for stimulus checks can get up to $500 for each child under 17, on top of the $1,200 maximum payment for individual adults. But the law requires anyone receiving the money to have a Social Security number. Undocumented immigrants who aren’t authorized to work can still file taxes using a separate identification number, but Congress didn’t make them eligible for the relief funds.
The parents at issue paid federal and state taxes, and would otherwise meet the eligibility requirements, according to the lawsuit filed in May in federal court in Maryland. The parents and their kids, who are all named as plaintiffs, argue denying a federal benefit to these children is unconstitutional because they’re being discriminated against and treated differently from other US citizen children.
The ruling means lawyers for the families can begin seeking records and other evidence from the administration.
“The judge's opinion rejects the government's efforts to dispose of this case and recognizes the urgency of the matter,” Mary McCord, a lawyer for the families with the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Plaintiffs hope that [C]ongress will take note and enact legislation to revise the CARES Act to provide badly needed emergency funds to U.S. citizen children, regardless of whether their parents are documented.”
US District Judge Paul Grimm wrote that even though the children aren’t the ones receiving the checks (the checks would be made out to their parents as the taxpayers) they had made a clear enough argument at this early stage of the case that they were directly harmed and had standing to file a lawsuit. The families had said that they needed the money to pay for cleaning supplies and COVID-related safety measures and to help cover other basic living expenses.
Grimm rejected the government’s arguments that it was immune from this type of constitutional claim seeking to force a federal official to take a particular action — in this case, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — and that the families couldn’t sue for money damages.
Finally, the judge ruled that the US citizen children had made enough of a legitimate claim that they suffered a constitutional violation for the case to move forward. The Justice Department had argued that requiring a Social Security number was a legitimate policy choice to help carry out the requirements of the CARES Act. The families countered that the government failed to show how allegedly discriminating against these US citizen children would advance any bureaucratic goals.
Grimm sided with the families, writing that they had “adequately pled that the CARES Act discriminates against the Citizen Children Plaintiffs and the Parent Plaintiffs as their representatives based on their parents’ alienage.”
Representatives of the Justice Department and the Treasury Department did not immediately return requests for comment on Monday.
The case is one of several lawsuits pending in federal court over how Congress and the Trump administration are handling the stimulus money for individuals and businesses. There’s a separate case pending in Maryland about the denial of checks to households where couples filed jointly and one person is an undocumented immigrant.
Business owners with past criminal records, adult entertainers, and lobbyists have also sued over being excluded from a small business relief program, and Native American tribal governments have challenged the Treasury Department’s management of funds meant specifically to benefit their communities.