Democrats demand stimulus money for Americans who are married to immigrants

U.S. citizens and permanent residents are being denied payments if they file taxes jointly with an immigrant spouse without a Social Security number.
Image: Stimulus Checks
President Donald Trump's name appears on the coronavirus economic assistance checks that were sent to citizens across the country.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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By Sahil Kapur

WASHINGTON — Americans are eligible for up to $1,200 in coronavirus stimulus money — unless they're married and filing taxes jointly with an immigrant who doesn’t have a Social Security number. Democratic leaders are demanding to change that.

About 2 million undocumented people are married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder. They — along with some lawfully present immigrants — don’t have Social Security numbers and use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (or ITIN) to file taxes.

The CARES Act, which authorized the payments for couples earning up to $198,000, requires a Social Security number for eligibility. The IRS has said both people on the tax return must have Social Security numbers in order for either to get any money, including the $500 per child that is helping cash-strapped families pay for rent and other expenses in the pandemic.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “a monumental injustice” that must be fixed.

“Millions of American citizens … and their children are being denied the CARES Act relief payments because they’re part of the mixed status families,” she told reporters on a call Friday. “They pay taxes, contribute to our economy, and in many cases are fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., attributed the exclusion of mixed-status couples to “a lack of empathy from the administration.”

“It’s just cruel,” he said. “Particularly when you think of kids who need food, who need medicines, and not giving them the help they need. These are American citizens.”

The remarks set up a potential battle between Democrats and the Trump administration as tensions grow over the next round of coronavirus relief, which is expected to focus on aid to state and local governments. Party leaders believe the administration has enough flexibility under the law to resolve the problem but if it doesn’t, they may force the issue during the next round of negotiations.

“The Trump administration should right this injustice. If it doesn’t, however, the Congress should fix it in upcoming legislation,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told NBC News.

A spokesman for the IRS said that Americans in a mixed-status marriage will still get a stimulus payment if they file tax returns separately. But if they’ve already filed, they won’t be getting a payment this year and will have to wait till next year and submit their taxes individually.

“Depending upon their status and how they file their 2020 return next year, however, they may qualify for a credit on their return,” the spokesman said.

A spokesman for Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who wrote the legislation, said mixed-status filings were “relatively rare” and that the spouse with legal status can ultimately access his or her share of the relief money.

The spokesman, Michael Zona, said the requirement of a Social Security number was bipartisan because it “prevents illegal immigrants from qualifying for a U.S. taxpayer-funded program and helps reduce fraud and abuse.”

Pelosi — who participated in the call with Schumer, Castro and some affected Americans — noted that she and the Democratic-led House had pushed to allow people with ITINs to qualify for stimulus payments but that provision was rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate. She said wouldn't negotiate on the call but vowed that her party would have to keep fighting for it.

Schumer said Senate Democrats will “fight like hell” to protect mixed-status families and voiced hope that “our Republican colleagues will see the light here.”

The issue has also prompted a lawsuit alleging that the provision in the law is unconstitutional because it punishes Americans on the basis of who they choose to marry.

On the call Friday, Castro echoed the argument and said the rule violates the Constitution’s guarantee of “equal protection and due process on the basis that it discriminates against mixed status couples.”