The benefits of the expanded child tax credit — which some experts have deemed the largest anti-poverty program in decades — will extend to certain unauthorized immigrants and their families.
Starting Thursday, most U.S. families began receiving monthly payments from the IRS of up to $300 per child, as stipulated in the coronavirus relief measure pushed by President Joe Biden and passed by Democrats in March. Recipients will include immigrants residing in the country illegally but whose children have Social Security numbers.
The policy marks a departure from the bulk of the government safety net programs that sprang up during the COVID-19 pandemic — including enhanced unemployment benefits and last year’s coronavirus relief checks — which excluded unauthorized immigrants. That exclusion meant that in Georgia, nearly 90,000 U.S. citizen children and children with legal status didn’t receive assistance from the March and December 2020 relief packages because their parents were unauthorized immigrants, according to a report from the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank that evaluates migration policies.
“Our community is hardworking but also lives day-to-day. A lot of the choices they make have to do with how to pay for food, or how to pay for rent,” said Vanesa Sarazua, founder and executive director of Hispanic Alliance Georgia, a nonprofit based in Gainesville that aids immigrants.
“They need this relief immediately.”
How can unauthorized parents receive the new child tax credit?
In order to claim the child tax credit for their eligible children, immigrant parents must have an IRS-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
The taxpayer IDs are used by unauthorized immigrants to file taxes. In 2019, unauthorized immigrants in Georgia used the ID numbers to pay over $850 million in federal, state and local taxes, according to the New American economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization. Mixed-status households — whose members include people with different citizenship or immigration statuses — that have filed taxes in 2019 or 2020 will receive the child tax credit the same way everyone else will: via automatic direct deposits for those who have bank accounts, or checks in the mail.
“I think the majority of our community here won’t have the direct deposit option, so they will be waiting for checks to arrive in the mail. That’s what all of our eyes are on at the moment, to see how long that process is going to take,” said Sarazua.
For low-income families who aren’t normally required to file a tax return, the IRS created a non-filers’ portal to sign up for the child tax credit. Instructions are available in multiple languages, but at the moment, the non-filer sign-up tool is accessible only in English
Sarazua said her group will help people with the manual sign-up process if language barriers persist. The Hispanic Alliance Georgia will also help families get in touch with the IRS if checks fail to arrive.
The monthly payments — which amount to half of the total tax credit to which each family is entitled — will run through December. Families will receive the rest of the money when they file their tax return in 2022.
Will using the new child tax credit impact immigration status?
Using the child tax credit or other tax credits immigrants may be eligible for will not impact their current immigration status, or their ability to qualify for green cards or U.S. citizenship in the future. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the use of tax credits does not trigger a public charge designation.
“Families should not fear negative immigration consequences from the proper reporting and taking of this credit,” said Carolina Antonini, an Atlanta-area immigration attorney.
What immigrants need to be wary of, according to Antonini, is heeding the advice of “shady operators” and claiming additional credits they do not qualify for.
”Tax fraud will impact anyone’s immigration status negatively and can result in criminal charges and deportation proceedings.”
Lautaro Grinspan is a Report for America corps member covering metro Atlanta’s immigrant communities.