Some American children won’t get stimulus checks just because they were born to immigrant parents. That’s wrong, and Congress must fix it.

While lawmakers wrestled last week over the size of stimulus payments for COVID-19 relief, Americans engulfed by disease, debt and desperation waited eagerly for a deposit of any amount to hit their bank accounts.

But some of the most vulnerable Americans — U.S.-born children who can’t fend for themselves — will get nothing, only because their parents are here without authorization.

The new relief bill approved by Congress on Dec. 21 did reverse the heartless exclusion of some families with mixed citizenship status that did not receive relief under the CARES Act in March. Yet lawmakers have joined in the Trump administration’s decision to deny payments to the American or legally present children of families where immigrant parents are unauthorized.

Under the latest stimulus package, mixed-status couples and their children age 16 or younger will get some aid, with payments going out to the family members who have Social Security numbers. Congress arranged for these citizens and legal immigrants to get retroactive CARES payments along with payments under the new package.

But families with parents who file federal income taxes with individual taxpayer identification numbers or ITINs — often used by unauthorized immigrants — have been shut out, including those that claim American children as dependents.

Across the country, there are more than 2 million citizens or legally present children in families where parents are unauthorized immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute think tank. About 354,000 of those children live in Texas.

These estimates include children up to age 17, and the cutoff age for dependent children under the stimulus bills is 16. Still, it is the case that hundreds of thousands of kids younger than 17 who are entitled to the same aid as other Americans won’t get it. Their government has inexplicably abandoned them.

Unauthorized immigrants don’t qualify for most public benefits, but their U.S.-born children are eligible for food stamps, housing subsidies and Medicaid. Why, then, would lawmakers neglect to include these children in two emergency bills conceived to help families weather the worst public health crisis in a century and the resulting economic downturn?

Statistics have faces, and many of these faces belong to poor families on the COVID-19 front lines. About 5.5 million unauthorized immigrants nationwide work in essential industries such as health care, manufacturing and food services, according to the Center for Migration Studies of New York. Many are caring for older Americans as personal caregivers, processing food on dangerous meatpacking production lines or scrubbing dishes and preparing meals in restaurants that have managed to stay open.

Some immigrant families are reluctant to seek government help after the Trump administration announced a stricter “public charge” rule in 2018 that would limit green cards for immigrants who had used or were deemed likely to use public benefits. Even as the rule was challenged in court, unauthorized immigrants began removing their citizen children from assistance programs for which they qualified, according to reporting from this newspaper and others.

“We’re not going to give stimulus checks to illegal aliens. They came into the country illegally, and now we give them a check?” President Donald Trump said last year, though his own company long benefited from the labor of dozens of unauthorized immigrants. “We want to give the checks to the American people.”

Very well, Mr. President. Then send checks to these American children.

Dallas Morning News

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