Iowa Citizens Angered By Undocumented Spouse Exemption In Stimulus

By Claudia Thrane

May 2, 2020

Iowans are not out of the pandemic woods yet. Times are difficult and the federal stimulus checks will be a relief for many, but not for all.

Last month Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, giving a package of more than $2 trillion of economic assistance. This package will provide a onetime payment of $1,200 to assist Americans in need, aimed at individuals who made $75,000 or less and filed taxes using a Social Security number.

The law includes recovery payments to military families in which one parent or child is not authorized to be in the U.S, but this measure excludes all other mixed-status couples.

The Migration Policy Institute reports that 2% of undocumented people in this country are married to an American citizen (approximately 1.2 million), and many of these households have one or more children.

Pre-pandemic it was clear for Mexican and other immigrants in this country that we were going to have an uphill battle when Donald Trump won the Presidency. He opened his campaign by promising to make America great again.

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He also included insulting remarks towards Mexicans at the announcement of his candidacy in June of 2015 when he said: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.” He then added: “They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

For many of us, it seems that in every decision made by his administration, he continues to send the same message: you are not welcome in this country!

Decisions such as holding back help from those married to tax-paying undocumented immigrants is now a part of his legacy. It is designed, encouraged and supported by his closest advisors such as Stephen Miller and the Republican U.S. Senate, and it is part of the rhetoric that ignites his followers.

The sin of those impacted was to fall in love and marry an undocumented person, some who are on their way to legalization of their status.

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Several Iowans are among those excluded from receiving their stimulus checks, affecting entire families that usually live paycheck to paycheck.

I spoke to a U.S. citizen who will be affected by this exception in the relief act and she said: “It’s really hard for us right now since we have a 18-month-old child and we are also paying an immigration lawyer that’s helping us file for my husband’s legal residency.”

She works as a head start teacher in Denison and her husband works at a chicken farm. They have been filing their taxes together since they got married three years ago.

Taxes are complicated. In the case of undocumented persons, the IRS can issue an Individual Tax Identification Number or ITIN for the purpose of reporting income earned. These individuals are usually hired and work for Iowa’s agricultural and hospitality sectors and they meet their tributary obligation.

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When I first arrived in the U.S., I was confused — many immigrants are undocumented and pay taxes? I thought that was the biggest contradiction I had heard of! They not only paid but they could not benefit from it.

I reached out to a U.S. citizen that works as a CMA in a state facility in Marshalltown. She’s been married to her undocumented husband for sixteen years, and he works in a pork ranch. They have four kids.

Twelve years ago, they hired a lawyer to help them out with their immigration process but he mishandled their documents, which at the end made it impossible to reapply for his residency.

When I asked her how she feels about not qualifying for the stimulus check, she said: “On one hand, they say that I am an essential worker, but on the other hand the government is punishing me for marrying my husband. When you are dating, is not like you are going to ask them, hey, are you undocumented?”

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I later learned that the different agencies in the system, the IRS, Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration do not tell each other what to do. And as the saying goes, two things are for sure in life, death and taxes. I simply never suspected that our government would hurt so many of its citizens and their families by withholding assistance at a time like this.

Another U.S. citizen was also disappointed to learn that her husband does not qualify for the stimulus check.

“I feel this is discrimination because we pay taxes. I am an American citizen and so is my 15-month-old daughter and the President wants to attack me because I am married to an undocumented person,” she told me.

This Iowan works at a nonprofit organization in Marshalltown as a program coordinator and her husband works in construction. Due to the virus, business has slowed down and he is unable to work. Her husband is also in the process of becoming a permanent resident.

A federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in U.S. District Court in Maryland on April 4th on behalf of millions of U.S. citizens and their families who were left out of the coronavirus stimulus package. It argued that the federal government’s denial of COVID-19 relief payments to Americans married to immigrants who do not have a Social Security number is unconstitutional.

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Research reviewed by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office indicated that undocumented immigrants are estimated to pay in about $7 billion per year into Social Security in addition to spending millions of dollars per year, which supports the US economy and helps create new jobs. The same reports report also states that the Social and Medicare contributions of undocumented immigrants directly support older Americans, as undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive these services.

According to the American Immigration Council Organization, undocumented immigrants in Iowa paid an estimated $36.7 million in state and local taxes in 2014.

Families are having a hard time paying rent, utilities, and putting food on the table. The person we choose to fall in love with, marry and raise a family with should not be a tool to make people suffer even more.

Iowa has been a leader in marriage equality. We stood against injustice and discrimination in the past. It is up to us to change the future and reclaim our historic legacy of seeking and insuring justice for all.


by Claudia Thrane
Posted 5/2/20

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