Coalition Asks Congress To Pass COVID Relief For Immigrants

By David Hansen
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Law360 (September 10, 2020, 6:25 PM EDT) -- Congress must extend benefits in any upcoming COVID-19 stimulus bill to families whose members include at least one parent who is an immigrant, a group of almost 200 advocacy organizations said in a letter sent to congressional leaders.

Families headed by immigrants pay U.S. taxes, and denying "critically needed relief" to their children is unconscionable, the groups said in the letter sent Wednesday to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

"Not only is it unfair to exclude any taxpayer from federal relief, but it is morally wrong to allow children to suffer poverty and hardship because of their parents' immigration status," the groups said.

Congress excluded most families with at least one immigrant parent from the benefits in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed in March. The act required both spouses in a family to have Social Security numbers, which are given to U.S. citizens and foreigners with work authorization.

The act did not cover people with tax processing numbers known as Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers — which could include foreign residents in the U.S. without authorization as well as foreigners living in the country legally who don't have permission to work — and their otherwise eligible American spouses.

The restriction excluded 3.5 million children, or one out of every four children in the U.S., from the aid in the CARES Act, the groups said in the letter. Many are U.S. citizens, and they will suffer long-term effects from the poverty and toxic stress resulting from the pandemic, the groups wrote.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we are all deeply connected, and the only way we are going to come out of the crisis a stronger nation is if we ensure every member of our community has access to the assistance they need," the letter said.

Congress is embroiled in a debate over a new COVID-19 stimulus package. The House passed its version, the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or Heroes Act, in May. It extends benefits to immigrants with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, which House Republicans opposed.

Senate Republicans unveiled a 285-page package Tuesday dubbed the Delivering Immediate Relief to America's Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act. It continues to exclude immigrants from benefits.

The government faces at least three proposed class actions brought against the Trump administration for excluding immigrant families and their children from benefits.

A group represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, sued the federal government in April. The group argued that the federal government violated the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens 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. A federal court in August rejected a motion by the government to dismiss the suit.

In June, the same Maryland federal court rejected the government's motion to dismiss a separate suit alleging that the U.S. citizen children of unauthorized immigrant parents have been improperly denied coronavirus relief payments.

In April, 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.

Press representatives from the offices of Pelosi, McCarthy, McConnell and Schumer did not respond to requests for comment. The Children Thrive Action Network, which posted the letter online, also did not respond to requests for additional comment.

--Additional reporting by Hannah Albarazi, Andrew Kragie and Dylan Moroses. Editing by Vincent Sherry. 

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