The “CARES Act” Is Misnamed for Immigrant Taxpayers and Their Families


As many of us are aware, on March 30, Congress passed the CARES Act to provide relief for Americans struggling through the Coronavirus pandemic. The CARES Act aims to provide relief to U.S. families, and says that most U.S. citizen and permanent resident adults will receive $1200 each; U.S. citizen and permanent resident children under 16 are supposed to receive $500 each.

However, the CARES Act also says that if anyone in your family files taxes with an Individual Tax-payer ID Number or ITIN, then your whole family is excluded from receiving benefits. So, for example, if you are a U.S. citizen and you file jointly with your spouse who is undocumented, but files and pays taxes with an ITIN, then neither you nor your children, if any, will get a benefit payment.

Now, anyone who knows me can attest with 100% certainty that I am no tax expert. However, even I can see that anti-immigrant elements in our federal government have begun using the tax code to take swipes at undocumented taxpayers and their U.S. citizen and LPR families. For example, in 2015, the “Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes” Act (or PATH Act) eliminated the Earned Income Tax Credit (or EITC) for families that included filers with an ITIN. PATH Act was passed and implemented with little notice. I’ve never heard anyone complain about the loss of the EITC for mixed-status families, even though it has been heralded by experts as being one of the most effective anti-poverty tools our government has ever created. Congress (and President Obama, who signed the PATH Act) managed to get this one by without much of a fuss.

But the CARES Act exclusion is a different story. The exclusion of U.S. citizen family-members of undocumented taxpayers from the stimulus package has ignited widespread outrage. On Thursday of last week, Christina Segundo Hernandez, a U.S. citizen wife of an undocumented husband, created a Facebook group to organize support for mixed-status families. The group, called “Mixed-Status Families UNITED” had grown to more than 5,000 members since April 12. Donations are being gathered as well.

The group has launched several petitions, hounded Congressional offices by phone, fax, and text, published dozens of emotional videos, harnessed the attention of CNN, Dallas Morning News, and other media outlets, filed a complaint with the DOJ Civil Rights Division, and is seeking attorneys to help them file a class action lawsuit. Several Democratic lawmakers are already working with them to remedy the exclusion in the next Coronavirus relief package, and it remains to be seen how this political energy may be utilized come election time.

With this particular move, it seems that our anti-immigrant lawmakers have kicked a hornet’s nest.

I, for one, hope they get stung.


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by Jennifer Walker Gates