The “CARES Act” is mis-named for immigrant tax-payers and their families. Here’s what you can do about it.

Looking forward to your $1200 check from the IRS? Read this:

You probably know that on March 30, Congress passed the CARES Act to provide relief for Americans struggling through this pandemic. The CARES Act says that most U.S. Citizen adults will receive $1200 each; U.S. citizen and permanent resident children under 16 are supposed to receive $500 each.

But get this: The language of the CARES Act seems to say that if anyone in your family files taxes with an Individual Tax-payer ID Number or ITIN, then your whole family is excluded from receiving the benefit. So, for example, if you are a U.S. Citizen and you file jointly with your spouse who files and pays taxes with an ITIN, then neither you nor your children will get a benefit payment. I’ve spent several hours researching this question, and this is what I’ve read in three different articles, which you can see herehere, and here.

If I’m reading this correctly, this means that Congress and the president acted together to pass a bill that not only excludes undocumented people for filing and paying taxes with their ITIN, but goes even further to also punish their U.S. Citizen and Lawful Permanent Resident spouses and children for living with them, depending on them, and filing taxes with them. The people who allowed this to happen need to hear from us NOW.

Two things you can do about this unfair exclusion:

  1. Call our elected officials.They are supposed to work for us. Punishing U.S. citizen spouses and children of immigrant tax payers in this way is unacceptable. The next Coronavirus relief package needs to ensure – at a minimum – that every single U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident is provided with benefits, regardless of the immigration status of anyone in their family or household. (An easy way to stay in touch with our representatives in D.C. is by using “Resistbot.” Just text the word “Resist” to 50409 and you will be connected easily and automatically to our elected officials. I use Resistbot all the time and LOVE it.)
  2. If you haven’t filed 2019 taxes yet, ask about filing status “Married, filing separately.” Consider this status for 2020 as well. Everyone who knows me can tell you with 100% certainty that I am no tax expert. But the language of the CARES Act and the articles about it suggest that, if you’re married, then filing separately from a spouse who uses an ITIN may permit you to receive the benefit. It will be important to ask a reputable, knowledgeable tax preparer about this. What I can tell you is that, if you’re married, then filing taxes separately from your spouse is not going to cause problems for your or your spouse’s immigration case. The problem on the immigration side comes from filing as “Head of Household” when you’re married – “Head of Household” status is supposed to be reserved for unmarried people.

I hope I’m wrong about the CARES Act

I have made several angry calls to my representative’s and senators’ offices about this exclusion of families of immigrant tax payers. One of the staffers in Senator John Cornyn’s office was “very surprised” by my complaint; she did not believe what I was telling her about the CARES Act and said she thinks it’s not true. At the time I am writing this email, I am waiting for a call back from Cornyn’s tax expert who is supposed to clarify the language of the law.

I really hope I’m misreading the language of the bill and the articles I’ve found. If it turns out I am, I will post a very happy “I was wrong” message next week.

Tips and Strategies for Managing a Financial Crisis

Walker Gates Vela logoThe COVID-19 meltdown has been reminding me a lot of the previous economic crisis we experienced back in 2008 – 2011. My husband, Andrew Gates, is a home-builder and he was our family’s main support back then when I was working at Catholic Charities, earning very little, and paying big law school debts. Suddenly, Andrew’s work just evaporated and he had no income. Our third child was a newborn. We thought we were going to lose our house, our cars, everything. We went through a lot of panic. We were sued by our credit card company. We made lots of mistakes. But we made it through to the other side.

I learned some valuable lessons from that experience about how to get through times like these, and I have compiled them into a list of tips, which I invite you to download here. I hope that my hard-earned lessons can make things at least a bit easier for you and your family during this crisis.

If you have a delayed application for Naturalization, we have a solution for you

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (i.e. the immigration law), USCIS has 120 days after an applicant’s first interview and exam to make a determination on the application for naturalization. After 120 days have passed, the applicant may file his or her naturalization case in the Federal Court and ask a judge to decide whether he or she qualifies for U.S. citizenship.

There is no exception to the 120-day deadline. It doesn’t matter if USCIS has requested additional documents from you, scheduled an additional interview for you, or just stopped communicating with you. If you’ve had a first interview on your case more than 120 days ago and you still do not have a decision on your application, you can file a lawsuit.

WGV has helped many clients successfully conclude their applications for naturalization after long delays by filing cases in the federal courts. If you or someone you know needs help getting your naturalization case un-stuck at USCIS, please contact Jennifer Walker Gates or Jacqueline Watson at (512) 633-1785 or at [email protected].

U Visa Litigation Update

For our U visa clients who have been waiting many years to receive work permits while awaiting their U visa approvals, we have begun working through the federal court in Austin to push USCIS to make decisions on cases more expediently. To read more about those efforts, check out our blog post here.

Currently, we are concluding our first U visa delay lawsuit. Once that case is concluded, we intend to file for other clients who live in the Austin area, who have clean criminal and immigration records, and who have had their cases filed since at least 2017. Current processing times indicate that USCIS is adjudicating work permits for individuals who have had applications filed since September of 2015. We are arguing in our suit that five years waiting for a simple work permit is too long, and that this long wait time is frustrating the will of Congress, which is to provide legal status to cooperative victims of crime through the U visa program.

Last week, USCIS contacted us through their attorney and requested some clarification about our clients’ Form I-918B. The I-918B is the form that certifies that our clients were victims of a crime and cooperated with prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator. In order for USCIS to approve our clients’ work permits, we need to coordinate with prosecutors at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to clarify some of the information they included in the form. Once we do that, and submit the clarifications to USCIS, we anticipate that our clients’ work permits will be approved and issued within approximately 30 days.

If you have a U visa pending since at least 2017, have a clean criminal record, and live in the Central Texas area, you may be a good candidate to join our next lawsuit. For more information, please contact Jennifer Walker Gates at [email protected].

Resources for immigrants surviving the pandemic and quarantine

We at WGV want all of our friends and clients to know that using available resources to get through this time (including unemployment benefits) will NOT be counted against you for public charge purposes.

If you are undocumented, you probably do not qualify for unemployment benefits, but please know that in Texas evictions have been paused, as have many home foreclosures. Many utility companies (electric, gas, water, phone, and internet) are currently NOT disconnecting service for failure to pay are offering generous repayment schedules.

Regardless of your immigration status, it is safe to call 3-1-1 or visit the City of Austin’s Community Resources page to learn about resources available to you and your family for food, health care, utilities, housing, and transportation.

In addition, many private organizations have set up assistance funds for workers who have been laid off. For example, there are funds available for employees of hotels, restaurants and delivery drivers. These are privately funded assistance programs, and applying for them will NOT harm your immigration case.

Finally, emergency medical assistance will not be counted against anyone for public charge purposes. And as always, if your U.S. citizen spouse or children are receiving public benefits such as food assistance (a.k.a. food stamps), Medicaid, CHiP, or WIC, talk to a trusted immigration attorney before making any changes to those benefits.

If you have questions about your specific case and benefits you are considering, please reach out to us at [email protected]

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