Mixed Immigration Status Couples Sue For Stimulus Checks

By Suzanne Monyak
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Law360 (April 29, 2020, 7:30 PM EDT) -- The Trump administration was hit Tuesday with another lawsuit brought by Americans who lost out on their federal stimulus checks because they are married to immigrants without Social Security numbers.

A group of U.S. citizens married to immigrants, represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, accused the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS of unconstitutionally discriminating against them by sending checks to some married couples but not others.

Congress greenlighted the stimulus checks, aimed to help Americans reeling from the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, when it passed the CARES Act last month. But with the exception of military families, the act required both spouses to have Social Security numbers, which are given to U.S. citizens and foreigners with work authorization.

As a result, people with tax processing numbers known as Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers — which could include foreign citizens here without authorization as well as foreigners living here legally who don't have permission to work — and their otherwise eligible American spouses were excluded from the relief.

"By denying plaintiffs and other mixed-status couples recovery payments, the CARES Act and defendants force plaintiffs and their children to suffer the stigma of knowing their families are adversely treated compared to other families," the complaint says.

The suit argues that by denying stimulus checks to these U.S. citizens, the federal government violated their constitutional rights to due process and free speech by penalizing them for marrying people with Social Security numbers and then "expressing" that marriage by filing taxes jointly.

MALDEF's suit is at least the second proposed class action levied against the Trump administration for withholding stimulus checks from mixed-status couples and their children. Under the legislation, individuals with qualifying income can receive $1,200 from the federal government, and married couples who file their taxes jointly are entitled to $2,400, plus $500 per child.

On Friday, an American citizen sued the federal government in Illinois federal court claiming that withholding his stimulus check violated his constitutional rights. Like the Americans in MALDEF's suit, he filed jointly with his wife, who uses an ITIN.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, nearly 2 million Americans citizens and U.S. permanent residents are married to unauthorized immigrants, and around 4 million U.S.-born children live with at least one parent without legal immigration status.

"U.S. citizens should not be denied economic recovery payments by the federal government simply because of whom they choose to marry," Nina Perales, MALDEF's vice president of litigation, said in a statement Tuesday. "The Constitution protects the right to marry and raise children, even if one spouse lacks a Social Security number."

An IRS spokesperson declined to comment on pending litigation, and a representative for the Treasury Department didn't immediately return a request for comment late Wednesday.

The proposed class is represented by Robert P. Newman of the Law Office of Robert P. Newman PC, and Thomas A. Saenz, Belinda Escobosa Helzer, Andres Holguin-Flores, Nina Perales, Fátima Menéndez, Samantha Serna and Andrea Senteno of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Counsel information for the federal government could not be determined Wednesday.

The case is Amador et al. v. Mnuchin et al., case number 1:20-cv-01102, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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