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Henry has been dreaming of becoming a U.S. citizen — to officially belong to what he calls the land of the free.
"I was happy to become a naturalized U.S. citizen on February 12th," he said. "But then I was surprised the first impression I get of the government is that I'm being discriminated against."
Discriminated against, he believes, for being an immigrant living in what's known as a mixed immigration status household.
Henry is a U.S. citizen who immigrated from Kenya. He lives in Taunton with his three children who are also U.S. citizens. His wife still lives in Kenya.
WBUR agreed to use only Henry's first name because he worries speaking could jeopardize his wife's green card application.
It's that green card application which led Henry and his wife to file taxes jointly: Henry with a Social Security number, and his wife with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN).
"When we filed together it strengthens our case in the immigration process," he said, "because it shows that we are husband and wife, legally married and that we do our financial things, including paying taxes, together."
But now, Henry — and potentially hundreds of Massachusetts families in similar positions — find they're penalized for following these tax rules.
That's because under the rules of the stimulus package, payments can only be made to people with Social Security numbers.
Eva Millona heads up the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. She says there are tens of thousands of households in the state filing taxes with an individual tax number, making them ineligible for the federal relief funds.
"If one member of the family has a Social Security number and the other one has an ITIN and they file jointly, it's an unfortunate situation," she said. "They won't benefit."
Had Henry filed taxes individually, using only his Social Security number, he'd be looking at close to $3,000 in stimulus funds for himself and his three children. But, because he and his wife filed jointly, he's not eligible for any of that.
"It's really in this very difficult time making it impossible for them to survive. There are thousands of families in Massachusetts who are in desperate need," said Millona.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was instrumental in drafting the stimulus legislation that includes these tax stipulations.
His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Both Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh have established emergency funds accessible to non-U.S. citizens, people who aren't eligible for unemployment benefits and who, in cases like Henry's, miss out on the federal stimulus funds as well.
"So in my specific case, I am a U.S. citizen, I file my taxes. I do not get any of the stimulus checks that were issued. I get zero," Henry said.
If he had received the funds, Henry said he would have used the money to buy food and help pay his mortgage. He said he's hopeful Congress will amend the next stimulus package so households like his can benefit.
This segment aired on April 23, 2020.
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