(CBS) — While Americans eagerly anticipate the possibility of a second coronavirus pandemic stimulus check thanks to the HEROES Act that recently passed the House of Representatives, roughly 1.2 million U.S. citizens were excluded from the first and received no stimulus aid – chiefly because of who they married.
“We needed it just as bad as anybody else needed it,” Wisconsin nurse Katelyn Jimenez told CBS News’ Adriana Diaz.
Jimenez’s husband, Samuel, saw his hours cut at his restaurant job because of the coronavirus lockdown, and the couple was counting on funding from the CARES Act to help them and their two girls through the pandemic.
However, the package excluded couples who filed a joint tax return if one spouse lacks a social security number, even if the other is a U.S. citizen.
Samuel Jimenez had recently received his green card and social security number after a seven-year process, but not in time for the stimulus check – meaning they and their children received no benefits. There are an estimated 3.7 million children who are US citizens or permanent residents in mixed-status families, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
“Just feeling like, you know, we didn’t matter as a family,” Katelyn Jimenez said. “We would have put that money back into the economy.”
She said she felt like she didn’t matter in her own country.
Though Samuel eventually found another job in landscaping, the couple’s 11-year-old daughter said she still worries for him.
“I get nervous that he’s going to get sick when he goes to work,” she said.
The CARES Act not only excluded Americans with undocumented spouses but also many legal immigrants on visas and foreigners married to Americans abroad. Though it did make an exception for active-duty service members married to immigrants without social security numbers, activists say veterans in this situation did not receive stimulus checks.
The exclusions drew widespread outrage and families nationwide have sued.
Vivian R. Khalaf, a lawyer representing a plaintiff in an Illinois lawsuit, said more than 6,000 people have signed up on their website to become part of the potential class-action suit. “We get one intake on the website every two minutes,” Khalaf told CBS News last month. Another suit was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) in California.
More than 15,000 people have joined a Facebook group for mixed-status families that’s advocating for change.
“It does make me feel kind of like a second-class citizen in a way, just for who I married,” an Illinois woman named Laurie said.
Like the Jimenez’s situation, Laurie’s husband is undocumented and does not have a social security number. The individual tax ID number he uses to pay his taxes each year is not enough, but it would be under the HEROES Act, which would ensure payments to all U.S. taxpayers.
On Thursday, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Thom Tillis introduced a bill to allow U.S. citizens in mixed-status families to receive stimulus payments retroactively. But the HEROES Act is facing a steep uphill battle in both the Senate and the White House, leaving families like Laurie and Katelyn’s hanging on uncertainty.
“I don’t think any other country would really do this during a pandemic or a crisis,” Laurie said.
She said the exclusion of the couple’s 15-month-old daughter from receiving any CARES Act benefits was “the most painful part.”
“… How could you punish a child that was born here?” she asked. “Like, an innocent child.”