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.

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]

Do you know what is MOST important in the new “Public Charge” rules? The answer will probably surprise you.

All of the news about the new “public charge” rules is creating a lot of confusion. If you are applying for residency through a family member, you need to know what is MOST important about the new rules, and tune out the rest. So … what is MOST important?

Is it your kids’ Medicaid? No.
Is it your kids’ food stamps? No.
Is it your WIC benefits? No.

(You should not change any of these benefits, if you have them – they do not count against you in the “public charge” determination.)

The answer is kind of boring: It’s your paperwork.

It’s your taxes, your bank statements, your pay stubs, your car insurance, your health insurance, your property and vehicle titles. Boring things like this. And especially your TAXES.

Your TAXES are the way that you communicate to the Federal Government that you are contributing to the national economy and our common good in the USA.

So, it is now more important than ever that your TAXES be CORRECT.

We have noticed that a lot of tax preparers encourage families to claim nieces, nephews, family living abroad – even neighbors – as dependents so as to maximize someone’s tax refund.

Also, we often see tax preparers telling spouses to file as “Head of Household,” when in fact, they are married and living with their spouse.

Doing your taxes like this might give you a bigger tax refund this year, but please know that doing this will likely cause problems for immigrants under the new “public charge” rules.

So, if you are an immigrant seeking legal status or residency in the United States, make sure your taxes are done correctly. Use a reputable tax preparer and make sure they are asking you a lot of questions every year.

And please be patient with your immigration attorneys if we tell you to get your taxes re-done! Our job now is to help you demonstrate your work ethic, your personal ambition, your determination to contribute to the USA. And your taxes will be a key component of how we do that.

If you have questions about how the new rules affect you and your case, please call us at (512) 633-1785 or email us at [email protected].

Public Charge: Five Ways To Beat It

Want to know what’s GOOD about the new public charge rules? 

**The new rules look at the IMMIGRANT’s earning potential, not just the U.S. Citizen petitioner’s.**


The new “Affidavit of Self Sufficiency” will examine the applicant’s work history and earning potential and provide applicants with the opportunity to show what they can contribute to our economy. If you are like most of our clients, you are super hard-working and a good earner for your family, so this is a welcome change as far as we’re concerned.

However, if you’re worried about how the new public charge rules will affect your immigration case, here are five steps you could take to make your “Affidavit of Self Sufficiency” stronger. Please note that all of these options are open to you even if you’re undocumented.

1. Get your Diploma or GED. The new rules consider a high school diploma and/or GED as “positive factors” in the public charge analysis. Free classes and programs are available (regardless of your immigration status) at The Literacy Coalition of Central Texas and at the Goodwill Excel Center.

2. Take business classes. The City of Austin Small Business Program provides FREE classes, both online and in person, to help city residents open and launch small businesses. Immigration status is not a barrier to registration. Check out all the classes here: http://www.austintexas.gov/smallbiz. Make sure and keep documentation for all of the classes you take.

3. Start a small business. Dozens of our clients are small business owners and we’ve seen many of them achieve incredible success with restaurants, cleaning businesses, food trailers, retail stores, automotive repairs, and more, in spite of being undocumented. If you have a small business already, make sure it is registered with the Texas Secretary of State and make sure you file and keep your official registration and tax documents.

4. Get a professional certificationAustin Community College offers classes to all Central Texas residents, regardless of immigration status. They offer certifications in dozens of professions where our clients are already working including Culinary, Hospitality, Automotive, Construction, Welding, Heating and AC Services, etc. Check out their academic and career programs at here.

5. Take English classes. English proficiency is considered a “positive factor” under the new rules. Central Texas  is home to several FREE programs for individuals who want to improve their English skills. To learn more, go to: https://library.austintexas.gov/nip/english-classes.

As we’ve already stated, all of these resources is available to you regardless of immigration status. And not only does this kind of effort strengthen your “Affidavit of Self-Sufficiency.” It will also fortify your personal, professional, and financial success in the United States.

In the meantime, if you have questions about how the new rules affect you and your case, please call us at (512) 633-1785 or email us at [email protected]

Who is Exempt from the new public charge rules?

Who is exempt from the new “Public Charge” Rules?

Are you worried about the new public charge rules?

Please don’t worry!

We will be providing plenty of information during the next few weeks to help you understand the new rules and how you can overcome them.

First, we want to discuss who is NOT affected by the new rules. If you have any of the following types of cases, the new public charge rules DO NOT apply to you:

1) Refugees, asylum applicants, and anyone applying for residency as a refugee or asylee;
2) Cubans who are applying for residency after one year in the USA;
3) Special Immigrant Juveniles;
4) DACA and TPS applicants;
5) U Visas, T Visas, and anyone applying for residency after having a U or T visa;
6) Anyone applying for residency under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA);
7) Anyone applying for Cancellation of Removal;
8) Anyone who is already a lawful permanent resident (so long as you don’t leave the USA for longer than six months);

In other words, for these types of immigrants, using public benefits does not count against you. (There are other exempt case types, too, such as for Iraqi and Afghani interpreters, but those listed here are the most common for our clients.)

Also, receipt of WIC and CHIP will NOT count as “public benefits” for ANYONE under the new public charge rules, and benefits for U.S. citizen children do not count against you. If you have used WIC or CHIP for yourself and/or your children, do not worry! This does not mean that your case will be disapproved.

Even under these new rules, if you can show that you and your family work hard (as almost 100% of our clients can), then we feel very hopeful that the new public charge rules will not keep you from achieving your goal of having lawful status in the United States.

Next week: We’ll send information about steps you can take to improve your financial status for immigration purposes.

In the meantime, if you have questions about how the new rules affect you and your case, please call us at (512) 633-1785, find us on Facebook, or email us at [email protected].

 

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