Montgomery County can continue to provide direct financial assistance to undocumented residents, a Maryland district judge ruled on Thursday.

In May, two county residents sued County Executive Marc Elrich (D) and the director of the Department of Health and Human Services for funding a one-time emergency assistance check during the coronavirus pandemic to low-income families that do not qualify for the federal stimulus check or state benefits. The plaintiffs, Sharon Bauer and Richard Jurgena, alleged that the officials violated federal law by directing taxpayer dollars to undocumented immigrants.

Maryland District Judge Peter J. Messitte said the residents’ allegations were “unquestionably serious” but ruled that they did not have the right to challenge the county’s compliance with federal law as private citizens.

“Whether a federal statute is privately enforceable is up to Congress, not to State courts,” Messitte wrote. If the court accepted the residents’ arguments, “any Maryland taxpayer … could challenge any State or local official’s actions based on any federal statute, irrespective of the law’s relevance to the individual litigant,” Messitte added.

Conservative legal group Judicial Watch, which represented Bauer and Jurgena in the lawsuit, said they plan to appeal the decision.

“[The court] is saying it might be illegal, but there’s nothing you can do about it, and well, we beg to differ,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

Montgomery County officials in April approved spending $5 million in emergency assistance for residents who did not qualify for state or federal relief from the economic crisis caused by the covid-19 pandemic. Eligible recipients include dependent children above the age of 16 and those without Social Security numbers, such as undocumented residents, the county said.

When the lawsuit was filed in May, Elrich said the county was prepared to “defend what it has done.”

Montgomery County Council President Sidney Katz (D-District 3) said, “It is disgraceful that any group would seek to deny essential assistance for children and families who are struggling to make ends meet.”