The CARES Act Decrees Certain American Citizens Married to Noncitizens are Ineligible from Receiving the $1,200 Stimulus Relief Checks.
A provision in the CARES Act— the $2.2 trillion economic relief bill that Congress passed in March 2020— denies stimulus checks to some US citizens married to noncitizens, who happen to be married to individuals without a social security number, including undocumented immigrants who pay taxes and who are in the process of gaining legal status.
The rule exempts military families but mostly affects mixed immigration status families where one spouse is an American citizen and the other an unauthorized immigrant who pays taxes using a government-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN. That’s an estimated 1.2 million households. For any of those couples who filed taxes jointly, the spouse who is a citizen isn’t eligible for the stimulus check of up to $1,200 (unless either spouse served in the armed forces in the previous tax year).
It’s a narrow, discriminatory policy that has no sensible rationale. At least two lawsuits have been filed challenging the rule, alleging that Trump and Congress violated civil rights laws by punishing “certain United States citizens and their children from receiving the stimulus checks for the sole reason of who they chose to marry.” Vivian Khalaf and Omar Abuzir are the lead attorneys on this case, along with attorneys from Blaise & Nitschke P.C.
In this class-action federal lawsuit filed in Illinois last week, the John Doe plaintiff is married to an immigrant who pays taxes and files tax returns with an ITIN. Doe qualifies for the $1,200 check, but he is not in the military and he files jointly with his wife. See the full class action complaint.
The class action lawsuit is based upon the defendant’s unconstitutional deprivation of the rights, privileges, benefits and /or protections, provided to the United States Citizens, via the enactment and enforcement of the S. 348-Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Complete the form to find out if you qualify.
An aide to Senator Chuck Grassley, who helped write the CARES Act, told The New York Times that US citizens in such mixed-status families who file individually may still be eligible for relief. But in an interview with the Boston Globe, Vivian Khalaf said that doesn’t help her client or others who are in the same boat.
“We’re looking at this from the rear-view mirror,” Khalaf said. The couple filed their taxes jointly in 2018 and 2019. “Had you filed a 2019 tax return individually, then yes, you could get a check. But it’s a choice whether you want to file jointly or not. If you file separately, you’re not going to get the benefit of certain exemptions, and your [tax] liability may be higher.”
Moreover, mixed families who are in the process of legalizing the undocumented spouse’s status are encouraged by their immigration attorneys to file their taxes jointly because that helps support their immigration case. If they’re trying to obtain lawful permanent status for the undocumented spouse through a marriage-based petition, filing taxes as a couple adds legitimacy to the marriage in the eyes of the federal government.
This article originally appeared in The Boston Globe.