Since the beginning of the economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of families have looked to stimulus checks from the federal government in hopes of finding some financial relief.
Under the government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, immigrants are not eligible for $1,200 payments unless they have a green card. This has sparked controversy, given that legal immigrants on U.S. work visas are required to also pay taxes and have suffered from the recent severe economic decline.
Now, it appears that some U.S. citizens may also be left out from receiving checks. According to the Los Angeles Times, Americans who file joint taxes with immigrant spouses without Social Security numbers face exclusion from federal relief payments — unless they are members of the U.S. military.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 1.2 million U.S. citizens are married to unauthorized immigrants. According to CBS, only married couples where both partners have Social Security numbers will receive checks, meaning legal immigrants who use an Individual Taxpayer Identification number to file taxes are also excluded.
Among those impacted by the new exclusion are frontline workers in hospitals, police departments and public transit.
In Baltimore, Maryland, Ashlee Ramirez is a registered nurse who has spent the last month working in an emergency room helping to incubate COVID-19 patients. In light of hospital shortages in protective equipment, she has spent her own money on necessary materials to make face masks, along with heavy duty garbage bags to act as hospital gowns in the event they run out. Ramirez files taxes with her husband, a Honduran citizen. According to the LA Times, she has been denied economic stimulus checks even though her husband received a US Social Security number in January.
“What does it mean when I pledge allegiance to the flag?” she told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s supposed to be justice for all. I feel like that flag that I love so much has not stood for justice for me and my family.”
Randall Emery, the president of American Families United, a nonprofit advocating for U.S. citizens married to immigrants, also criticized this exclusion to the Los Angeles Times.
“It’s just fundamentally unfair, and it’s really, really targeted to hurt,” Emery said.
“It’s such a basic thing that the government would protect its own citizens and the government is really abandoning U.S. citizens when they need help the most,” he added. “A lot of people really need this just to survive.”
Within the last week, more than 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. Economists estimate the national unemployment rate is between 15 and 20 percent, a significant margin higher than it was during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009. The unemployment rate during the Great Depression was about 25 percent.
At the federal level, some officials are hoping to expand the population of those eligible for federal relief. On April 3, Democratic Congressman Lou Correa, along with Congresswoman Judy Chu and Congressman Raúl Grijalva, introduced the Leave No Taxpayer Behind Act in an effort to amend the CARES Act to ensure that all taxpayers, including immigrants, are eligible for a $1,200 check.
Rep. Judy Chu made the following statement in regards to the proposed change:
“The CARES Act is meant to help our whole economy survive this crisis. You cannot do that by excluding entire segments of the population. This virus does not care about immigration status. It does not discriminate and neither should we. Immigrants own businesses and homes, support families, and pay rent, and contribute to their communities. Making it impossible for them to receive the same benefit we are sending to everyone else just means those immigrants will have a harder time affording food or rent, and that leaves us all worse off. I hope to see this corrected in the next relief package.”
According to CBS, there is little confidence that the bill will be able to garner bipartisan support in the Senate. In the meantime, some states are pursuing relief efforts for immigrants.
Earlier last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a $125 million relief fund to aid California workers who do not have permanent legal status. The fund, which will begin accepting applications next month, will be offering $500 cash grants for individuals and up to $1000 for families, according to NBC.
Rep. Tony Cárdenas, (D-Calif.), chairman of the Hispanic Caucuses’s political action committee, voiced support for Newsom’s efforts to ensure that the state’s workers and taxpayers receive necessary assistance.
“Undocumented working and tax-paying Americans should have the basic human rights and support from the government as everyone else,” Cárdenas told NBC.
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