Law360 (June 22, 2020, 2:03 PM EDT) -- A Maryland federal court can consider a suit alleging that the U.S. citizen children of unauthorized immigrant parents have been improperly denied coronavirus relief payments, the court said in rejecting the government's motion to dismiss.
The U.S. government failed to prove that the claims of injury were insufficient to warrant the suit, which was brought by a group challenging the denial of direct stimulus payments authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act , the court said in a Friday order.
"Given that plaintiffs' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief arise under the Constitution and are asserted against a federal officer, this court has jurisdiction to hear them," the court said.
Under the legislation signed by President Donald Trump in late March, 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. Only people who filed their 2018 and 2019 taxes using a Social Security number, or who can otherwise provide the numbers to the government, can claim the payments.
The court found that the denial of the $500 payments to undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. children does cause injury to those families by preventing them from purchasing supplies to help during the economic recession caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. This would give them constitutional standing to sue, according to the order.
The government's arguments that tried to quash the group's suit would lead the court to a "logical conclusion" that the U.S. government feels the distribution of economic impact payments authorized by the coronavirus relief bill couldn't be challenged by anyone, according to the order. The court rejected that idea.
The court found that the group would have jurisdiction to sue the government for damages under the Little Tucker Act , which gives federal district courts the ability to resolve tax disputes involving claims of less than $10,000, according to the order.
The court also found the government's argument unpersuasive that the law isn't discriminatory because it includes a Social Security number requirement to efficiently administer the payments.
Regardless of what level of scrutiny the court uses to look at the issue, the group has a legitimate claim to challenge whether the denial of $500 dependent payments to undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children is discriminatory, the order said.
The coronavirus relief bill discriminates against the American children of unauthorized immigrant parents because it denies their families the $500 payments for qualifying dependents 17 and under, the group said in its proposed class action last month, challenging the requirements governing the financial assistance.
The group includes immigrant parents who have lost income because of the pandemic and are consequently relying on community support to pay rent and feed their U.S. citizen children, according to the complaint. The suit seeks approval of a nationwide class consisting of U.S. citizen children under 17 who have been denied economic relief payments, a group of people the suit estimates to number in the millions, according to the complaint.
The group, which is seeking class certification from the court, consists of seven American children and their immigrant parents, according to court documents. They are identified by initials.
Even though they're U.S. citizens, children of immigrants who are living in the country without legal permission are precluded from obtaining financial assistance by a provision in the law that requires parents claiming the payments to have Social Security numbers, according to the complaint. This provision effectively renders the children second-class citizens, the group argued.
The suit argues that children aren't getting the aid even though they have Social Security numbers, their parents pay taxes and even qualify for other tax breaks such as the child tax credit, according to the complaint. These children and their families are especially vulnerable to the economic disruption caused by the outbreak, the group said.
The group urged the court to bar the U.S. Department of the Treasury from enforcing the Social Security number provision of the CARES Act and to declare it unconstitutional. They're also asking for $500 in damages for each citizen child of unauthorized immigrant parents in the U.S., according to the complaint.
The suit is at least the third challenging the CARES Act's requirement that taxpayers claiming the payments have valid Social Security numbers. A group of U.S. citizens married to immigrants sued the Trump administration on April 29, arguing that they've been wrongly denied the relief checks since the CARES Act largely requires both spouses who are filing jointly to have SSNs. A separate suit filed April 24 also contends that American taxpayers married to immigrants have been wrongly deprived of the payments.
One of the group's attorneys, Mary McCord of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center, told Law360 in a statement that the court's order reflects that it understands the denial of the $500 payments for qualified dependents is an urgent issue. The group also urged lawmakers to "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," McCord said.
The Department of Justice declined to comment.
The proposed class is represented by Leslie Book of the Villanova University School of Law and Jonathan Lev Backer, Amy Marshak, Mary McCord and Robert D. Friedman of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center.
The U.S. government is represented by Christopher James Williamson and Jordan A Konig of the U.S. Department of Justice, Tax Division.
The case is R.V. et al. v. Steven T. Mnuchin et al., case number 8:20-cv-01148, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
--Additional reporting by Theresa Schliep, Steven Cooper and Suzanne Monyak. Editing by Neil Cohen.
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