GREENBELT, Md. –  The federal government’s continued denial of some parts of COVID-19 relief to U.S. citizens married to immigrants who pay taxes but lack social security numbers is unconstitutional, according to a Latino civil rights organization.

Last week, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) amended an existing class-action lawsuit challenging the CARES Act. The amended complaint argues that, while Congress addressed some of the discriminatory issues raised by the 2020 law, some families are still being denied complete relief because one parent is an undocumented immigrant.  The amended complaint was filed on behalf of Juana Rueda, a U.S. citizen in Ohio shut out of a CARES Act payment for her teenage son.

“There is no such thing as an acceptable partial fix to unconstitutional discrimination,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “While recent legislation may have reduced the number of American families harmed, the federal government has failed to make many families whole, continuing to deny them equal treatment because they are mixed-status families with a child who turned 17 in recent months.”

In April 2020, Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act, which provided advance tax refunds to families who made $75,000 or less and filed taxes with their social security numbers. But the measure excluded mixed-status couples like Rueda and her husband because their joint tax return included her social security number and his Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or ITIN.

When Congress passed amendments to the CARES Act in December 2020, it corrected some of the issues for the mixed-status families who were excluded from the act. The changes made to the CARES Act, however, still excluded certain payments to Rueda and other mixed-status families with a child who turned 17 years old in 2020.

The amended complaint challenges the constitutionality of the CARES Act, arguing that it discriminates against mixed-status couples such as Rueda and others like her by treating them differently than other married couples in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment guarantees of equal protection and due process.

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

“U.S. citizens should receive COVID assistance equally and regardless of whom they marry,” said Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president of litigation.  “The amended complaint continues the effort to secure equal treatment for families, including children, that is promised by the Constitution.”

The original lawsuit was filed last April on behalf of families denied CARES ACT relief because one spouse used a social security number and the other an ITIN. Fifteen named plaintiffs who received relief under the CARES Act amendments have since voluntarily dropped their challenges.  Rueda’s challenge, and that of those similarly situated, remains.

Read the complaint HERE.