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The Economic Impact of Coronavirus on Undocumented Families

April 15, 2020

The impact of the Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, has been hard enough on American families. Schools are closed leaving students without in-person instruction and parents without reliable childcare. Many companies have furloughed or laid off workers or reduced hours for their employees. The United States government introduced legislation in late March under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to combat the economic circumstances that these measures have left many families in. But undocumented immigrants and their families cannot take advantage of many government programs meant to help in tough times. If you or a member of your family does not have legal status, it is more important than ever that you take steps to obtain legal status so that you can obtain the same economic assistance from the United States government as other American families.

The CARES Act provides several forms of economic assistance. The first is a lump sum payment made to eligible taxpayers of up to $1,200 per adult in a household ($2,400 for a married couple) and an additional $500 per child. Any eligible taxpayer who makes under $75,000 per year as an individual or $150,000 per year as a couple will receive the full payment. The catch is that only taxpayers who file their taxes using a Social Security number are eligible for the payments.

Many immigrants pay federal taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The IRS gives ITINs to immigrants who do not have social security numbers because they lack legal status, so that they can still pay taxes. The ITINs cannot be used by immigration enforcement officials and they allow you to build a history of contributing to the United States economy through paying your taxes that can be useful if you decide to pursue a path to legal status. If you have an ITIN and have been filing and paying taxes, you've been contributing to the United States economy like any citizen – but you will not be eligible for the lump sum payments intended to help families during the time of Coronavirus. The only thing you can do with your ITIN is bring your work history and details of paying taxes to a qualified immigration attorney who can help you apply for legal status. You'll miss out on the payment this April, but if similar payments are made in future, you may be eligible then.

You may be wondering what happens if you have legal status, but your spouse or partner does not; or if your spouse or partner has legal status, but you do not. The answer is that if you don't have children and only one of you has legal status and you file your taxes separately, then only the person with legal status will obtain their payment. But if you do have children and one parent does not have legal status, then the entire family is not eligible for the lump sum cash payments. Even if the children are U.S. citizens, if one parent does not have legal status, the family will not only lose out on the adult payments, but they will not even receive the $500 payments for children. Furthermore, if you are a DACA recipient but you are currently in college and you work part-time, and you filed your taxes as a dependent of your undocumented parents, you won't be able to receive a payment either. The only exception is for military families. Otherwise, families with even one undocumented member lose out.

The CARES Act also enhances unemployment benefits beyond what is usually offered by the individual states. While precise eligibility still depends on which state you live in, all eligible workers who are unemployed due to Coronavirus are eligible to receive the standard unemployment money from their state plus an additional $600 per week from the federal government. The additional $600 weekly payment is for everyone, even if adding $600 to your state's weekly unemployment benefit results in a slightly higher payment than you would have made if you were still able to work.

In addition, freelance and gig workers, including Uber and Lyft drivers, Instacart and DoorDash shoppers, household employees like nannies or drivers, construction workers, or writers for local non-English newsletters, are all eligible if they pay taxes. But just like the lump sum payments, the increased eligibility for unemployment and the higher payments available to workers can only be obtained by legal residents of the United States. This can be especially problematic if you are a nanny or other household employee and your employer stops paying because they expect you to file for unemployment due to the new rules for increased eligibility, because you cannot file for unemployment benefits unless you have a Social Security number and a valid Authorization to work.

In an ideal world, the United States government would recognize that immigrants using ITINs have been paying their taxes and should qualify for the same economic assistance as other taxpayers. But for the world we live in, the best way forward if you are an undocumented immigrant is to seek help from a qualified attorney in applying for legal status. You can use your employment history and record of paying taxes using an ITIN to demonstrate your commitment to being a taxpaying worker in the United States. There are many pathways available to legal permanent residency and some of them are not often pursued by over-worked attorneys at legal clinics or even lawyers at large firms. Seeking out an attorney who is committed to helping individuals apply for and obtain legal status based on the specifics of their individual situation, whether it is a 245(i) visa, Special Juvenile Immigration Status, a T visa, a fiancée visa, or another option[1] that is most suitable. By making this decision and getting on the pathway to legal permanent residency, you will be eligible for economic assistance in future should there be further issues with the Coronavirus or any similar pandemic or event that is to come.