Georgetown Law School Sues Administration Over Discrimination in CARES Act Against US Citizen Children of Immigrants – May 7, 2020

Posted on: May 7th, 2020
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From Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Prote:

Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) and Villanova Law Professor Leslie Book today filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland challenging the intentional and discriminatory exclusion of U.S. citizen children from the benefits of emergency cash assistance distributed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, based solely on the fact that one or both of their parents are undocumented immigrants.

The complaint was filed on behalf of seven U.S. citizen children and with the support of CASA, a D.C.-area immigration non-profit organization. The complaint explains that the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 29, 2020, provides a financial lifeline to millions of people by distributing through the tax system immediate economic impact payments of up to $1,200 per adult and up to $500 for each of the adult’s children under age 17. However, the CARES Act provides payments solely to taxpayers who file their taxes using a Social Security Number – meaning U.S. citizens and immigrants with work authorization – thereby denying payments to U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants who pay their taxes using an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).

“The refusal to distribute this benefit to U.S. citizen children undermines the CARES Act’s goals of providing assistance to Americans in need, frustrates the Act’s efforts to jumpstart the economy, and punishes citizen children for their parents’ status – punishment that is particularly nonsensical given that undocumented immigrants, collectively, pay billions of dollars each year in taxes,” said Mary McCord, Legal Director for ICAP. “More fundamentally, this discrimination violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

Many of CASA’s members in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia – as well as immigrant families across the country – have been impacted particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences.

“The purpose of the CARES Act is to help the most vulnerable members of our society during this difficult time,” said Nicholas Katz, CASA’s Senior Manager of Legal Services. “Immigrants make up of almost a fifth of frontline workers during this pandemic. It is an absolute outrage that we are relying on immigrant families to care for our loved ones and provide our essential supplies and yet denying their children the support they are entitled to as U.S. citizens.”

The complaint alleges that the CARES Act provisions deny U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrant taxpayers the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  The plaintiffs in this case, brought as a class action on behalf of others like them across the country, are the U.S. citizen children and their parents who have not received the $500 payments specifically intended to benefit children.

Plaintiff Norma (last name withheld due to security concerns) came from Mexico to the U.S. in 2005 and has a son who is a U.S. citizen. She was working in a restaurant in the District of Columbia and lost her job due to the COVID-19 business shutdowns. She lives with her boyfriend who contracted coronavirus 10 days ago. Thus, they have no current income and are getting food from a community center and the school system. Norma’s boyfriend is now living in a room separated from her and the kids, but her brother-in-law and his wife, who live with her, have also contracted the virus.

“I have lost my job, and in my home three adults have the coronavirus; none of us are working,” said Norma. “My son is an American citizen, and we need him to receive the CARES Act benefit to provide food and a roof over his head until this difficult moment passes.”

The claim seeks a declaration that the CARES Act’s denial of economic impact payments to U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents is unconstitutional and seeks payments of up to $500 for each U.S. citizen child, in accordance with the thresholds in the CARES Act.

“The decision to not provide economic impact payments to support citizen children harms the children directly and is a slap in the face to millions of hard-working taxpaying immigrants who comply with our tax laws, file tax returns, and pay billions of dollars in taxes,” said Professor Leslie Book, of Villanova Widger School of Law. “This is especially cruel and unjust when so many are struggling to pay for food, rent and medicine.”

The complaint can be found here.