Law360 (April 27, 2020, 10:46 PM EDT) -- President Donald Trump violated civil rights laws by withholding COVID-19 stimulus checks from taxpaying Americans married to immigrants without Social Security numbers, a U.S. citizen has alleged in Illinois federal court, saying he and a million similarly situated Americans have been denied their $1,200 relief checks.
"Defendants have intentionally and/or recklessly punished certain United States citizens and their children from receiving the stimulus check for the sole reason of who they chose to marry," an unnamed Illinois man wrote in a proposed class action on Friday.
The man, referred to as John Doe in the complaint, claims that Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin deprived him of his rights of association, of due process and equal protection under the law.
John Doe says he's married to an immigrant who files tax returns with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, issued to her by the IRS, and that they file joint tax returns.
Under the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, U.S. citizens with Social Security numbers are eligible for the $1,200 per adult and $500 per child stimulus benefit. But John Doe says the government has deemed him ineligible based on who he chose to marry and he has not received his check.
"Had plaintiff not been married to an immigrant, plaintiff and his children would have otherwise qualified for a stimulus check," John Doe alleges.
Congress has been issuing the checks to U.S. citizens' bank accounts since shortly after the CARES Act became law on March 27.
John Doe's co-counsel, Lana B. Nassar of Blaise & Nitschke PC, told Law360 that her client just wants to be treated like any other American.
"Our U.S. citizen clients are simply requesting they be treated like their fellow citizens, rather than being discriminated against under the CARES Act on the sole basis of whom they chose to marry. U.S. citizens are U.S. citizens — period," Nassar said.
The move cuts off thousands of mixed-status couples from accessing relief at a time when massive layoffs are being experienced across the country as people are asked to remain at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The CARES Act requires check recipients to have filed their 2018 or 2019 taxes with a Social Security number. The only exception is for members of the U.S. military.
Many immigrants don't have Social Security numbers but do pay taxes using an ITIN. The identification number was created specifically for those that don't have and aren't eligible for a Social Security number so that they can still pay taxes.
The complaint says there are an estimated 1.2 million Americans married to immigrants who do not hold Social Security numbers, and those who filed joint tax returns and who are not in the military are excluded from the government's $2 trillion coronavirus financial relief package and are ineligible for a stimulus check.
John Doe claims Trump, McConnell and Mnuchin discriminated against him on the basis of whom he chose to marry and based on the alienage of his spouse.
"Defendants have intentionally and/or recklessly carved out plaintiff from the definition of persons eligible to receive the stimulus check during a global pandemic wherein unemployment is at its highest rate in the history of the United States," John Doe says.
The plaintiff asked the court to grant an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the challenged CARES Act provision.
The government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
John Doe is represented by Lana B. Nassar, Elisabeth A. Gavin, Heather L. Blaise and Thomas J. Nitschke of Blaise & Nitschke PC and Vivian Khalaf and Omar Abuzir of Khalaf & Abuzir LLC.
Counsel information for the Trump administration could not immediately be determined.
The case is John Doe et al. v. Donald J. Trump et al., case number 1:20-cv-02531 , in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
--Additional reporting by Nadia Dreid. Editing by Nicole Bleier.
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