Married To An Immigrant Without A Social Security Number? A Civil Rights Group Is Fighting For Your Stimulus Check
If they haven't already, most American taxpayers will soon be finding letters in their mailboxes emblazoned with President Trump's signature in simulated bold black Sharpie pen. The notes declare, "Your Economic Impact Payment Has Arrived" and explains that recipients are getting a check worth up to $1,200 to offset the economic hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But there's a group of Americans left off the mailing list: U.S. citizens who are married to immigrants using an ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, and file a joint tax return with their spouse to the IRS. (Often, immigrants without legal status will use an ITIN to pay income taxes, but ITIN users can also be immigrants in the U.S. legally who haven't gotten a Social Security number.)
According to the IRS, both filers must have a valid Social Security number to be eligible for the money.
A civil rights group has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the Trump Administration has acted unconstitutionally by denying the taxpaying spouses of immigrants those federal stimulus checks.
The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund or MALDEF, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, filed the lawsuit on behalf of six plaintiffs. They are U.S. citizens living in Texas, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, Utah, and Washington state. Most have children who are U.S. citizens also denied benefits because of the policy.
In the lawsuit, MALDEF estimates there are 2 million people nationwide who are U.S. citizens or green card holders and are married to someone who files taxes using an ITIN. There's no indication, however, of how many of these people file jointly with their spouse and are being denied a stimulus check -- or how many dependent children those couples have.
"Your whole family is excluded if you file a joint return," said plaintiff Christina Segundo-Hernandez, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her husband and four children.
She started organizing families in a similar situation on the Facebook page "Mixed Status Families United," which she says has grown to over 10,000 members, including doctors, nurses and other frontline workers.
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A Congressional Research document updated April 17 states that "taxpayers who provide an individual taxpayer number (ITIN) are ineligible for the credit. Hence, married couples in which one spouse has an SSN and another had an ITIN are generally ineligible for the credit."
"These are taxpaying couples who are being denied a stimulus check for one reason: to discriminate against immigrants," said Thomas Saenz, MALDEF's president and general counsel.
The group contends the policy amounts to unlawful discrimination against married couples under the 5th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law -- and is also a violation of the couples' 1st Amendment rights. (The argument echoes the marriage equality case of United States vs. Windsor that went before the Supreme Court.)
"I think it's horrible that we're being excluded simply based on who we married, fell in love with and chose to spend our life with," said Segundo-Hernandez, whose husband, Jose, is from Mexico.
"I've always believed in doing everything the right way, and we are doing it the right way," said Anastasia Campos, who lives near Sacramento. She took to Facebook Live to share her family's experience.
Campos and her four children are also not eligible for assistance under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, because her husband, who is from Central America, files taxes using an ITIN.
"To be slapped in the face like this," she said, "it's wrong."
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