The lawsuit reveals how the Trump administration has kept money from qualified U.S. citizens who happen to married to immigrants.
A recently filed lawsuit accuses President Donald Trump of refusing to send coronavirus stimulus checks to U.S. citizens married to immigrants without Social Security numbers.
According to CBS News, the lawsuit follows the Internal Revenue Service’s own clarification: that only married couples in which both partners hold valid Social Security couples will receive stimulus payments.
The lawsuit, which CBS says was filed by a U.S. citizen and Illinois resident, claims the restriction is unconstitutional—a form of discrimination “based solely on whom [the plaintiff] chose to marry.” Two attorneys involved in the suit say they’ve identified more people affected by the IRS’s guidance and have made attempts to contact them.
The stimulus checks—part of a $2.2 trillion relief package passed by Congress at the end of March—provide scaled cash payments for taxpayers whose income falls below a certain level. Single taxpayers who earned less than $75,000 on their most recent return will receive a $1,200 check from the IRS, while married couples who filed jointly will receive $2,400 if their household income falls below $150,000.
Taxpayers or taxpaying couples who earn more than either limit may still receive scaled-down checks.
The citizen-plaintiff in the lawsuit—identified in court documents only as John Doe—would have qualified for a $1,200 stimulus check. But Doe files taxes with his immigrant spouse, who doesn’t have a Social Security Number but instead uses an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or TIN.
And because Doe’s spouse’s immigration status makes them both ineligible for stimulus payments, that means Doe won’t receive any money for his children, either.
Lana B. Nassar, an attorney with Blaise & Nitschke PC who’s representing Doe, called the government guidance “cruel.”
“It’s our humble opinion that U.S. citizens are U.S. citizens,” Nassar said, noting that people like her client aren’t “asking for preferential treatment—they want to be treated like U.S. citizens.”
The IRS’s “cruel carve-out violates the Constitution because it discriminates on the basis of marriage,” Nassar said. “Time and time again the court has found there is a fundamental right to marriage.”
“If you are discriminating on the basis of marriage, the government has to show there is a compelling government interest that justifies this exclusion,” Nassar added. “It’s a very high burden to meet.”
Nassar explained that Doe has two children—both of whom are U.S. citizens—under age 17. Under the CARES Act’s provisions, Doe should receive $1,200 in stimulus funds for himself, plus $500 for each minor child—a total of $2,200.
“That’s money he could use to feed his kids and pay his bills,” said immigration attorney Vivian Khalaf, who’s also representing Doe. “The person suffering here is the U.S. citizen—not the person who doesn’t have a Social Security number.”
CBS adds that the CARES Act only allows immigrants with green cards to receive stimulus funds. But many immigrants who’re living in the U.S. with less-than-permanent visa statuses still work and pay taxes to the federal government.
To that end or one similar, the lawsuit observes that judicial precedent has cast discriminatory legal provisions with the same suspicion the Trump administration has accorded Doe’s spouse.
According to NBC’s coverage of the lawsuit, court documents allege that the Supreme Court itself has found discriminatory “classifications based on alienage […] are inherently suspect and subject to close judicial scrutiny.” While that doesn’t mean any and all classifications based on national origin or immigration status are suspect, the Supreme Court has, in fact, gone so far as to opine that “undocumented aliens cannot be treated as a suspect class.”
“Discrimination based on the alienage of a U.S. citizen’s spouse is presumptively unconstitutional and subject to strict scrutiny,” the lawsuit reaffirmed.
CBS News says the complaint was filed Friday in a federal court in Chicago. It names as defendants President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.