MALDEF Sues Federal Government Over COVID-19 Relief to Mixed-Status Couples

(GREENBELT, Md.) – The federal government’s denial of COVID-19 relief payments to U.S. citizens married to immigrants who do not have a social security number is unconstitutional, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in a Maryland federal court.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed the federal suit on behalf of six U.S. citizens who were denied federal stimulus checks because they filed joint tax returns with spouses who use an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) to pay taxes. ITINS are issued by the Internal Revenue Service to non-citizens who lack a social security number so they can pay taxes.

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the CARES Act, arguing that it discriminates against mixed-status couples because it treats them differently than other married couples, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment guarantees of equal protection and due process.

“Any nation that values family should recognize the obligation to treat all married couples equally,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “In the United States, a nation of and by immigrants, this unconstitutional exclusion is especially inexplicable.”

Last month, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. The $2 trillion economic assistance package provides a one-time $1,200 payment to individuals who made $75,000 or less and filed taxes using a social security number. The law provides recovery payments to military families in which one parent or child is not authorized to be in the U.S., but the measure excludes all other mixed-status couples.

MALDEF attorneys also argue the law punishes mixed-status couples who exercise their First Amendment right to file joint tax returns with their immigrant spouses and seek to have their lawful marriages and commitment recognized by doing so.

“U.S. citizens should not be denied economic recovery payments by the federal government simply because of whom they choose to marry,” stated Nina Perales, MALDEF Vice President of Litigation and counsel in the case.  “The Constitution protects the right to marry and raise children, even if one spouse lacks a social security number.”

Among the U.S. citizens suing the federal government is Christina Segundo Hernandez, a Texas resident. She filed her 2019 tax return with her husband, a construction worker, who has an ITIN. She recently learned that her family, which includes her four U.S.-born children, are blocked from receiving a recovery check.

“The federal government shouldn’t be able to exclude some U.S. citizens from getting help because of the person they are married to,” said Segundo Hernandez. “My husband and I pay taxes; I was born in this country. My children were born here, yet the U.S. government now wants to turn its back on me and treat me as if I’m not a citizen. That’s wrong.”

Other plaintiffs include Angel Burgos Jimenez, a U.S. citizen who lives in Virginia with her husband and five U.S. citizen children. She filed her 2019 taxes jointly with her husband, who uses an ITIN. She and her children are now ineligible to receive federal funds earmarked to help individuals who are most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The suit names U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin, U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue Charles Rettig, along with the Treasury Department and the IRS as defendants.

The legal challenge comes as the U.S. continues to grapple with health and economic crisis that has left more than 50,000 dead, more than 1 million sick and left businesses struggling to survive.

Mixed status families are particularly vulnerable to the economic devastation created by the ongoing crisis. Unauthorized immigrants earn less than U.S. workers, and are often among those first to experience a loss or reduction of wages.

Read the lawsuit HERE