A federal class-action lawsuit was filed on Tuesday (May 5) on behalf of U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents who are not eligible for the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), according to NPR.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Maryland by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center along with CASA, a nonprofit immigrant rights organization serving the Washington, D.C.-area and Pennsylvania, on behalf of seven children, ranging in age from 7 months old to 9 years old, and their parents.
Carmen, the mother of one of the children listed in the lawsuit and who declined to give her full name to NPR because of her undocumented status, told the news outlet that she only wants what is fair for her daughter. "My daughter is a U.S. citizen," she said. "Just as any other U.S. citizen child, my daughter deserves to have equal rights, especially during this pandemic. It’s an injustice."
The Cares Act was signed into law on March 27 and is intended to provide an economic reprieve for millions of taxpayers who use their social security numbers "instead of the individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN, used by Carmen and many other undocumented immigrants," NPR reports.
According to NPR, eligibility for CARES relief is outlined as follows:
Every eligible individual receives a $1,200 check if the person has an income of less than $75,000 per year, or $2,400 if a couple files taxes jointly. If the income is higher, the amount varies. Individual taxpayers’ children also qualify for $500 per child under the age of 17.
People like Carmen, who work two jobs and pay taxes every year by using her ITIN, are left with no help and no clear recourse. "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."
"It’s a hard reality we are living," Carmen added. "I hope their hearts soften and their minds open to see that our children are also the future of the country."
Mary McCord, a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center and lead attorney for the class-action lawsuit, told NPR the children of people of undocumented status are citizens who are being denied their legal rights. "The lawsuit is based on the equal protection violation of the CARES Act that discriminates and excludes U.S. children," she explained. "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." She estimates there are millions of children being denied rightful access to federal coronavirus relief.
More importantly, McCord said, it’s nonsensical to deny these U.S. citizen children the benefit of the relief package because they already qualify for other public benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits, as well as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.
"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."
"The purpose of the CARES Act is to help the most vulnerable members of our society during this difficult time," Nicholas Katz, CASA’s senior manager of legal services, said in a written statement to NPR. "Immigrants make up almost a fifth of [front-line] 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."