White House Confirms Support for Stimulus Checks for Citizens Born to Undocumented Immigrants

A controversial vote by eight Senate Democrats against stimulus benefits for undocumented immigrants last week forced the White House to clarify its own stance in favor of checks for the U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents Tuesday.

The controversy on the left began when eight Democrats voted in favor of an amendment from Republican Indiana Senator Todd Young included in the COVID relief package. Some of the Democratic senators who voted for the provision included Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper, Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, all of whom benefitted from the votes and organizing of Latino voters and immigration groups during their respective elections.

While the stated purpose of the amendment was to block stimulus benefits like checks or tax breaks from going to undocumented immigrants, there was concern among senior Democrats like Illinois Senator Dick Durbin that the language could block American children with undocumented parents from receiving aid.

So-called mixed-status families were excluded from the first round of stimulus payments last spring, but some were included in the second payment, which also occurred during the Trump administration.

Pushback to the vote came from progressive Democrats like Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono, who said undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and their U.S. citizen children are Americans so they should receive checks. The White House was forced to weigh in after a furor from immigration advocates and questions from reporters.

A White House spokesman told Newsweek the dividing line is social security numbers (SSN). "Our belief on this is that if you have an SSN you are eligible for the benefits in the American Rescue Plan," the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the Biden administration's stance, said.

In an afternoon press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Biden's position, saying the president "supports sending benefits to people who are eligible."

But immigration advocates who have turned their ire on those Democratic senators they feel betrayed Latino and immigrant communities say the Biden administration's clarification is not enough as Democrats submit votes they deem to be unacceptable.

"Where does Biden stand?" asked Chris Newman, general counsel for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and veteran of the immigration wars of the last 15 years. "Assuming he shares our view, he needs to use political persuasion and give a speech, if necessary, on why it's immoral and impractical to condemn immigrant families to a heightened risk of death by withholding aid."

Others blasted the White House and members of Congress for the decision that bars some immigrants who used ITIN numbers to pay their taxes from receiving stimulus checks.

"All taxpayers, regardless of immigration status, should be eligible for stimulus checks in the COVID relief package. This should not be up for debate," said Lorella Praeli, president of Community Change. "It's unconscionable that Congress and the White House would even consider excluding ITIN holders from the relief package. We are talking about 9.3 million tax-paying immigrants, including millions of essential workers."

Key players in the pro-immigrant movement have lobbed criticism at the eight senators, a development that could be viewed as a warning to the White House. One White House ally said Democratic senators are "skittish" on immigration, but rejected the premise that their vote represented a schism between progressives and moderates.

"It's not a progressive-moderate thing, there was no reason for them to vote like they did. I'm fairly certain they voted this way because they don't want the narrative to be that they're providing benefits to undocumented immigrants when they could be going to citizens," the ally told Newsweek.

Among the senators that have faced the fiercest backlash is Hickenlooper, who was criticized in a media blast after his vote by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) which is active in his state of Colorado. He later reached out to the group to schedule a phone call with leadership to discuss the vote, Newsweek has learned. "He represents a blue state, he didn't need to pander to the right," LULAC president Domingo Garcia, told Newsweek.

Sergio Gonzales, the executive director of Immigration Hub, agreed that the way the amendment was written would have likely impacted mixed-status households, and also piled on in regards to Hickenlooper. The rapidly expanding Latino community is 23 percent of the Colorado population, he said, which helped give Hickenlooper a large margin of victory.

"He campaigned on being a progressive person on immigration policy and then to turn around in one of his first votes on the issue and vote against immigrants is a slap in the face to the immigrant communities he used, but also to the Latino organizations and leaders that threw down on his race," he said.

Erika Andiola, an activist that has both worked for Democrats like Sinema and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but also clashed with the party throughout the years for being insufficiently supportive of immigrants, tweeted her disgust after the vote was made.

"What hurts even more, is that both of our Arizona Senators voted for it," she wrote. "This includes my former boss and someone who I always looked up to so much when she was fighting anti-immigrant laws in Arizona. @kyrstensinema why would you do this? @CaptMarkKelly is this who you will be?"

A spokesperson for Sinema told Politico that she "voted to uphold what is currently law," in regards to social security numbers being used to determine eligibility for stimulus aid, and said the amendment did not deny support to mixed-status families.

For her part, Andiola tweeted that she's seen this before.

"Both parties have let people like me, my family and my community down, but when it's Democrats, it hurts even more because of the damn promises they make," she wrote. "8 of them voted for this. 8!"

joe biden departing white house for delaware
President Joe Biden walks across the South Lawn as he departs the White House to spend the weekend in Delaware on February 05, 2021 in Washington, D.C. He has called for COVID-19 relief to pass through Congress swiftly. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images