Provide economic justice to all immigrant families in third stimulus bill

Provide economic justice to all immigrant families in third stimulus bill

Originally Published in The Hill

Opinion by Sarah B. Horton - January 11, 2021

As President-elect Joe Biden renewed his call for a third round of stimulus checks on Friday to help struggling Americans, he would do well to start by rectifying the exclusions of the first two stimulus bills. Even as undocumented immigrants are overrepresented in jobs at the frontline of the pandemic, neither previous stimulus bill provides them any relief. Making matters worse, both bills have also excluded their citizen children. The third stimulus that the Biden administration is drafting must provide immigrant families with relief by including all taxpayers, regardless of legal status.

Lawmakers have celebrated the fact that the second coronavirus relief package the President signed on December 27 finally grants stimulus payments to the one million citizen spouses of undocumented immigrantsunfairly excluded from the CARES Act.

Under the new coronavirus relief bill, citizen spouses married to undocumented immigrants will be eligible for up to $600 in relief payments and $600 for each citizen dependent. And when they file their 2020 taxes, they will also be eligible for retroactive payments from the first COVID relief bill — up to $1,200 for themselves and $600 for each citizen dependent.

But the new bill continues to exclude undocumented immigrants who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) — a number the Internal Revenue Service grants those ineligible for a Social Security Number. And it excludes the roughly 2.2 million citizen childrenwhom undocumented immigrants list on their taxes.

It is unjust for lawmakers to ignore the plight of citizen 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. Undocumented immigrants are overrepresented in the workforce and at the frontlines of the pandemic. Out of an estimated 7 million undocumented immigrants in the workforce, 5 million serve as essential workers — in farmwork, food services, construction, and maintenance.

In the U.S., public policy has traditionally treated the citizen children of undocumented parents just like other citizens. But the Trump administration has created a dangerous precedent of discriminating against families of mixed immigration statuses. In April 2019, the administration proposed evicting families from public housing solely because they had an undocumented family member. And the White House deliberately 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 insurance. A Trump administration policy implemented in February 2020 penalizing immigrants who use public benefits has also made many leery of applying for food stamps or income support for their citizen children. And 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 citizen 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, Colo. When the pandemic led 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 Walmart. He now has to repeat his senior year.

In November, candidate 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 must not forget the undocumented immigrants who supported the country during the pandemic and their citizen children. These heroes and their children deserve to be included in the third stimulus bill, and they deserve economic justice.

Sarah B. Horton is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver and author of “They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields: Illness, Injury, and ‘Illegality’ Among US Farmworkers.”

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