The lawsuit claims that government officials are illegally blocking aid to undocumented parents with citizen children.
The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress in March has kept benefits from the U.S.-citizen children of undocumented immigrants.
According to National Public Radio, the lawsuit was filed in a Maryland federal court by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center alongside CASA, a not-for-profit immigrant rights organization based in Washington, D.C.
Together, the two organizations are representing seven children aged 8 months through nine years old, as well as the children’s parents.
“Immigrants make up almost a fifth of front-line workers during this pandemic. It is an outrage that we are relying on immigrant families to care for our loved ones and provide essential supplies and yet denying their children the support they are entitled to as U.S. citizens,” said Nicholas Katz, CASA’s senior manager of legal services.
Under the federal CARES Act, passed at the end of March and effective from the beginning of April, many U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been afforded economic relief. Individual taxpayers earning under $75,000 per year on their 2018 or 2019 returns are entitled to a $1,200 check from the Internal Revenue Service, whereas married couples can receive up to $2,400 in relief.
Taxpayers who earn above either amount may receive scaled-down payments. Additionally, taxpayers who can claim dependents can receive $500 per child aged 17 or younger.
But, since payments are made to parents, undocumented migrants with citizen children haven’t received economic assistance—if not for themselves, at least for their children.
“My daughter is a U.S. citizen,” said Carmen, one of the parents involved in the lawsuit. “Just as any other U.S. citizen child, my daughter deserves to have equal rights. It’s an injustice.”
Carmen told NPR that, despite not having legal status, she still pays income tax each year using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN. Before the coronavirus outbreak led to restrictions being implemented in states across the country, Carmen had two jobs—one with an events caterer, and another at a pizzeria.
“This is the first time I’m home without an income,” she told NPR. “I’m using my voice to advocate on behalf of my daughter.”
Carmen, who’s last name was withheld by NPR due to privacy concerns, came to the United States from Peru in 2001. She said it’s difficult to ensure her children’s future in the face of mass economic uncertainty.
“It’s a hard reality we are living,” she said, asking that public officials realize excluding parents from benefits can impact children. “I hope their hearts soften and their minds open to see that our children are also the future of the country.”
Mary McCord, the lawsuit’s lead attorney, suggested that exclusionary benefits disbursements are problematic for several different reasons.
“The lawsuit is based on the equal protection violation of the CARES Act that discriminates and excludes U.S. children,” McCord said. “It’s one thing to discriminate against the undocumented immigrants, which our system does, but it’s a whole different thing to discriminate against U.S. citizen children.”
McCord also referenced an argument used in another CARES Act-related lawsuit—that it’s unconstitutional to structure programs to discriminate on grounds of alienage, or national origin and immigration status.
Legal protections relating to alienage—especially as it concerns to children—means that many federal benefits programs will accept undocumented immigrants who have citizen children.
“Under the Constitution, U.S. citizens cannot be discriminated against based on alienage,” McCord said. “These children have no say in who they’re born to, and yet they’re being treated differently than other U.S. citizen children. And that’s why so many of the other public benefits programs still do cover U.S. citizen children, because otherwise it would be discriminatory.”