Federal government sued for denying coronavirus relief to American spouses of immigrants

Stimulus checks have been issued by the IRS to help combat the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has sued the federal government over its denial of coronavirus relief payments to U.S. citizens who are married to immigrants without Social Security numbers.

The lawsuit was filed in Maryland on Tuesday on behalf of six U.S. citizens who were denied coronavirus relief checks because they had filed and paid taxes with a spouse who had an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, a method for immigrants without legal status to pay federal taxes, which millions do.

MALDEF says the Treasury Department is violating Americans’ 1st and 5th Amendment rights by denying them payment simply because of whom they are married to. Congress last month passed a $2.2-trillion package to help businesses, workers and a healthcare system staggered by the coronavirus. Many Americans had their share deposited into their bank accounts in the last couple of weeks.


More than a million U.S. citizens have been blocked from receiving stimulus checks because their immigrant spouses don’t have Social Security numbers.

April 17, 2020

It’s estimated that 2 million U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents are married to people without Social Security numbers, although it’s unclear how many of them file jointly.

“All of the families are very much like other families in the U.S. They have children at home; they are facing contraction of the economy, and they still have to pay their rent, and buy groceries and buy gas,” said Nina Perales, MALDEF’s vice president of litigation.

Christina Segundo-Hernandez, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, is one of the plaintiffs in the case. Segundo-Hernandez is a U.S. citizen married to a Mexican immigrant who pays federal taxes through his ITIN. The couple, married eight years, file jointly each year. They’re both working fewer hours because of the pandemic, and they’ve fallen behind on bills.

Getting a coronavirus relief check would have helped.

“I would have been able to fill up my refrigerator for my kids,” said Segundo-Hernandez, who has four children. “I think it needs to be known that there’s people out there that are doctors and things like that that are putting their lives at risk going through the same thing. They’re being betrayed by their government because of who they’re married to.”

Gov. Newsom authorized payments to immigrant workers as reconciliation for their snub by the president and Republican U.S. Senate.

April 20, 2020


David Hessell-Cercado, a fourth-grade teacher in Los Angeles, is a U.S. citizen married to a Mexican immigrant who is close to getting his permanent resident status. Hessell-Cercado isn’t involved in the lawsuit but will also not benefit from the coronavirus relief payments.

Hessell-Cercado said he felt lucky to still work, but he thinks it’s unfair that Americans are being left out of the coronavirus relief package because of whom they married.

“What hurt more was just the sheer meanness of it,” he said. “Anyone who marries someone and goes through an immigration process already has to deal with years and years and years of just delays and obstacles and hurdles to get over. It just seems like something else that they put out there just to sort of be mean to us.”