More than 1 million US citizens might never get virus relief checks

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Among the hardest hit are U.S. citizens with undocumented spouses.

Millions of Americans have been left out to dry when it comes to obtaining coronavirus relief money, and among the hardest hit are U.S. citizens with undocumented spouses.

A Monday report by the United States Government Accountability Office indicated that 8.7 million or more Americans had not yet received their stimulus checks during the coronavirus pandemic. At least 1.2 million Americans with undocumented spouses likely never will.

The report found that many of those bypassed by the CARES Act were low-income and "outside of the tax system." As a result, the GAO noted, those who didn't receive stimulus checks this year were largely those in most need of them.

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Disproportionately affected by the pandemic are U.S. citizens with undocumented spouses.

The CARES Act included a clause stating that in order for a couple filing joint taxes to receive a stimulus check, both spouses must have a Social Security number. Taxpaying citizens married to individuals using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number — commonly issued to undocumented citizens who are ineligible for a SSN — were banned from receiving stimulus checks or bonus payments for citizen dependents.

More than 16.7 million people in the U.S., including 8.2 million U.S. citizens, live in a household with at least one undocumented family member. Of these, 1.2 million are U.S. citizens married to an undocumented spouse. The CARES Act restrictions have also affected 4.1 million U.S. citizen children with at least one undocumented parent.

"Undocumented people are demanded as workers, but rejected as neighbors and citizens," Daniel Denvir, author of "All-American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on Immigrants Explains Politics as We Know It," told Borderless Magazine. "It's this total mismatch between people who are subject to the American government and are workers in the American economy and create wealth for it, but who are denied any sort of membership in the political community."

He noted that American capitalism can't survive without undocumented labor.

"(The stimulus package exclusion) is only more clearly absurd and unjust when we rely on low-wage workers, very much including undocumented workers, now more than ever," he added.

Michael Zona, a spokesperson for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), one of the authors of the CARES Act, has said that citizens with undocumented spouses may be eligible to receive a stimulus check if they file taxes individually rather than jointly.

But mixed-status families here face a catch-22: Many file jointly as a matter of demonstrating their marriage legitimacy, in order to support the undocumented spouse eventually gaining citizenship.

The federal government will soon be sending letters reminding individuals with unclaimed stimulus checks to file their information with the IRS, although the letter is no guarantee of receiving a check.

What's telling is that California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Georgia are the states that will be receiving the highest number of letters from the IRS reminding them of unclaimed stimulus checks. According to the National Immigration Forum, four of the five states with the highest number of taxpaying mixed-status families are California, Texas, New York, and Florida, and Pew Research estimates indicate that eight of the 10 metro areas with the highest numbers of undocumented individuals are located in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Georgia.

In April, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued the Trump administration on behalf of six plaintiffs arguing that the CARES Act discriminates against mixed-status couples and violates the constitutional right to equal protection and due process.

In May, Georgetown Law and Villanova Law advocates also filed a class-action lawsuit in Maryland federal court, similarly challenging the CARES Act on behalf of seven U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants.

While a bipartisan bill, the American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act, was introduced in June to close the loophole and retroactively send stimulus checks to those with undocumented spouses, it remains in the first stage of the legislative process. The policy-analysis company Skopos Labs predicts it has a 1% chance of becoming law.

The HEROES Act, passed in May by the House of Representatives, would provide those with undocumented spouses a second stimulus check, and retroactively issue their first — but the Senate has failed to vote on the bill.

"I would say this is a monumental injustice," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remarked on the exclusion clause in May. "Right now, there are millions of American citizens ... and their children ... being denied the CARES Act relief check because they are part of a mixed-status family."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer echoed her disgust.

"It's hard to believe that people would be so cruel to say that American citizens, just because of who their parent was or who they marry shouldn't get the same rights as every other American citizen," he said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.