Unlike the first wave of COVID-19 relief, known as the CARES Act, the latest coronavirus relief package signed by the president late last year granted stimulus payments to the 1 million spouses of undocumented immigrants who have citizenship.
But the new package is not a victory for all members of immigrant families. It provides nothing for the roughly 3.5 million children, including 2.2 million citizens, whose parents lack a Social Security number but who still pay taxes.
The third stimulus that the Biden administration is now drafting must provide these children with relief by including their taxpaying parents, regardless of their legal status.
As the bill excludes undocumented immigrants who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number – a number the Internal Revenue Service grants to those ineligible for a Social Security number – it therefore excludes the children of undocumented immigrants, too.
In the United States, public policy has traditionally treated the U.S.-born children of undocumented parents just like other citizens. The Trump administration, however, has created a dangerous precedent of discriminating against families with mixed immigration status.
In April 2019, President Donald Trump proposed evicting families from public housing solely because they had an undocumented family member. And the White House introduced language into the first CARES Act to exclude households with one undocumented member from receiving stimulus payments.
Undocumented immigrants are already excluded from unemployment benefits. And a Trump administration policy implemented in February 2020 that penalized immigrants who use public benefits has also made many leery of applying for food stamps or income support for their children with citizenship. Now, the failure of the second coronavirus relief bill to redress the initial exclusion of these children only further ensures that they grow up as second-class citizens.
Because undocumented immigrants are ineligible for any federal aid, lockdowns create unequal burdens for their children. Depriving undocumented immigrants of economic relief saddles their children with unequal life chances.
Karla, for example, is a 13-year-old daughter of undocumented parents living near Vail, Colorado. When the pandemic caused the restaurants where her parents worked to close, they lost seven months of income between them. In order to pay their monthly rent, her parents were forced to deplete Karla and her sister’s college fund.
Similarly, Bruno is an 18-year-old high school senior living with his undocumented parents and grandparents. In the spring, his mother and grandmother lost their work cleaning homes and his father lost his construction job. Bruno was the only family member with valid papers, and the only member who could obtain work at the big retail stores that remained open during the lockdown. So Bruno began working 36 hours a week at a Walmart. He now has to repeat his senior year because of the lost study time.
It is unjust for lawmakers to ignore the plight of children growing up in mixed-status families, just as it is unjust for them to exclude their taxpaying parents. Undocumented immigrants pay billions in state and local taxes each year, and more than half pay federal income taxes.
Moreover, out of an estimated 7 million undocumented immigrants in the workforce, 5 million serve as essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic – in farmwork, food services, construction and maintenance.
In November, Biden indicated his support for the HEROES Act, legislation that would have provided stimulus payments to all taxpayers, not just those with Social Security numbers. The newly elected president’s stimulus plan must not forget the undocumented immigrants who have supported the country during the pandemic. These heroes and their children deserve an economic lifeline.
___(Sarah B. Horton is a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver and author of “They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields: Illness, Injury, and Illegality among U.S. Farmworkers.” This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.) ©2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.