Child Poverty

Immigrant Children are Children, and All Children Should Be Eligible for the Child Tax Credit

May 26, 2021 | National

The recently-enacted American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) included a historic one-year expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) that has tremendous potential to cut child poverty and advance racial equity by:

  • Raising the benefit to $3,600 per child under age six and $3,000 per child age six to 17;
  • Paying the benefit in advance monthly installments beginning on July 15, 2021; and
  • Providing a huge first step forward in making a monthly child allowance a permanent reality.

At this critical moment, our leaders must lean into this opportunity to make expansions to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) permanent, accessible, inclusive, and fair. Children deserve to have the support they need to thrive — no matter their race or ethnicity, immigration status, or zip code.

More than 1 in 4, or approximately 18 million, children in the U.S. live with at least one immigrant parent or are immigrants themselves. For children—and this nation—to flourish and prosper, we must commit to policies that reflect this demographic reality and promote all children’s well-being. Yet far too many federal poverty-fighting tools, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), operate from a default position of immigrant exclusion, leaving too many children behind. Immigrants with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) are shut out from life-saving public benefits they contribute to and help to support.

The exclusion of immigrant families from public benefits has been particularly galling during the pandemic, when immigrant families have been simultaneously on the frontlines but left behind. Immigrant workers are disproportionately represented in essential industries like health care, retail, and manufacturing. Additionally, noncitizens are significantly more likely than citizens to be uninsured. Despite these dual vulnerabilities, immigrant families were largely excluded from federal relief efforts. Even ARPA, which made a third round of stimulus payments available to mixed-immigration status families, still maintained that filers with ITINs were not eligible to receive the payment. 

Now at the dawn of a new automatic benefit for children, this policy of exclusion unfortunately also pertains to the CTC, which beginning in 2017 required that children have Social Security Numbers (SSNs) in order to be eligible due to provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). This made an estimated 1 million children ineligible for the credit. Rolling back this Trump-era exclusion of immigrant children is vital to ensure that the CTC reaches all children. Restoring the credit to children who lack SSNs is also necessary in order for President Biden to fulfill his vision of securing our values as a nation of immigrants and unwinding the harms of President Trump’s cruel immigration policies. To ensure a fair and just system that helps grow and boost our economy, and supports our children, immigrant families must be included.

Let’s deliver on the full promise of the CTC to all children. Children can’t wait until the TCJA expires in 2025 to receive support for basic necessities like food, shelter, and health care. These are their years of critical development and every year, every dollar matters. Congress must restore access to the credit for immigrant children who lack SSNs when permanently expanding the CTC to create a child allowance. Additionally, Congress must extend EITC eligibility to make the tax code more inclusive. Furthermore, Congress must ensure families do not face undue burdens when trying to get an ITIN or file taxes. 

To read about some of the challenges immigrant families face when applying for ITINs, check out this post from our partners at the Center for the Study of Social Policy.