Grace Amador is too young to know why she didn’t get a cake for her birthday.

Or a tie-dye themed party. Or that Baby Alive doll she had hoped her parents might get her.

“What does my present look like this year, Mom?” Ivania Amador recalls her daughter asking in the days leading up to her sixth birthday. Amador explained to her that the family would have a home-cooked meal this year, but parties and presents would have to wait.

“Sorry, honey, but we don’t know how long the pandemic is going to last,” she recalls saying.

Amador describes Grace, who is the oldest of her three children, as “pretty mature for her age” and aware of some of what her family is going through. But she doesn’t fully grasp the reasons for their current struggles, because to do so, she would have to understand phrases that shouldn’t exist in any grade-schooler’s vocabulary: financial crisis, economic stimulus and mixed-status families.

Amador anticipates that conversation will come later when her daughter looks back on photos of her birthday — which her parents marked on a recent weekend at their Frederick-area home while both were fighting the coronavirus — and asks about that time in her family’s life.

“It’s going to be a hard story to talk about,” Amador says.

How do you tell a child that during a pandemic that killed tens of thousands of people in the country and left millions out of work, the government decided her family didn’t deserve help?

How do you explain that even though she and her two younger siblings are U.S. citizens, born and raised in Maryland, just like their mother, federal officials decided not to give them an economic stimulus check — because their dad doesn’t have a Social Security number?

How do you encourage that child to grow into a woman who contributes in a meaningful way to a place that decided even before she turned 6 that she wasn’t worth contributing to?

“I am a citizen born here,” Amador says when we talk on a recent afternoon. “I have three children born here. In every other sense, I have the title of ‘American.’ But because I married someone who isn’t, I got disqualified. I got excluded from something everyone else in this country wasn’t.”

On Wednesday, people across the country scrambled to meet a noon deadline for requesting that the IRS deposit their stimulus payments directly into their bank accounts. Those who missed that cutoff risked waiting until June or later to get those checks for up to $1,200 for individuals and $500 per child.

But Amador’s family, along with other mixed-status families, in which one spouse is not a U.S. citizen, won’t get any funds.

The government did not include them in its $2 trillion Cares Act, with one exception: mixed-status families in which one spouse is in the military.

Neither Amador, who is 29, nor her husband, Eleuterio, who is 35, served in the military. Both, however, are active in their community, work full time and pay taxes. In the six years they have been married, they have jointly filed to the IRS, using her Social Security number and his Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which the government provides to noncitizens.

Amador says she expected her husband was not likely to receive a stimulus payment. (“I don’t agree with it,” she says. “But I understand.”) What she didn’t expect was that she and her children wouldn’t get the $2,700 that other Americans in their economic situation were receiving.

“My husband and I have chosen, in good spirit, to say, ‘We are here in this country, we benefit from the streets, we benefit from the highways, we benefit from the trash pickups, so whatever it is we need to pay in taxes, we’ll do it,’” Amador says. “And then to have your own country turn around and say, ‘That’s not enough,’ is a slap in the face.”

It’s also unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund that names as plaintiffs Amador and five other U.S. citizens who were excluded from receiving relief because their spouses don’t have social security numbers. Denying them and others based on whom they marry, the suit argues, unduly interferes with their “fundamental rights and liberty interests, is arbitrary, unfair . . . and lacks an adequate justification.”

Amador, who has a college degree and works as a transition specialist for the adult education and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs at a local community college, says she did not put her name on that lawsuit without first giving it much thought and talking it through with her husband. They have worked toward getting him citizenship for years, she says, but it has been a slow and expensive process.

“You’re always fearful,” she says. “If the government can take away your stimulus check, what else are they capable of doing?”

At the same time, she says, she felt she had remained “quiet for too long.”

“I never really shared my story,” she says. “I never really told anybody what I was dealing with personally. It wasn’t until all this happened that I said, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

“Latinos disproportionately hurt by coronavirus in Maryland,” read the first part of a headline on the Baltimore Sun’s website this week. The article detailed how “Hispanic people have the highest rate of infection of any race or ethnic group in Maryland” — a fact that should alarm us on multiple levels — and dove into some of the reasons.

But Amador didn’t have to read it to know why. She has seen the vulnerability among Latinos and immigrants through her work and personal life.

“I have students that I work with that I’ve contacted to say, ‘Where are you?’ ” she says. “They’re sick and they won’t get tested. One, because they don’t have insurance. Two, because they don’t have the means. And three, because they’re scared.”

Her parents, who came from El Salvador and settled in Maryland before she was born, have started to show signs of covid-19. Amador says she worries they may have developed it while watching her two oldest children when she and her husband were sick.

She had a fever for eight days and lost her sense of smell and taste. She tested positive for the coronavirus. Her husband, she says, started showing symptoms shortly after her and remains in quarantine at their home.

Before he got sick, Amador says, the family’s small painting business had lost clients and income. After he got sick, it lost even more.

She had hoped to use the stimulus money to compensate for those losses and pay bills.

“I never thought about what the repercussions were for falling in love with someone if they weren’t born in this country,” she says.

Her husband came from Honduras at the age of 21, and the two met at church. Amador says they dated for five years before getting married. They now have Grace and two little boys named Caleb and Nicolas, who are 3 and 11 months old, respectively.

In a picture taken shortly after Nicolas was born, the older children wear shirts that say, “The crew.” His reads, “New to the crew.”

For her daughter’s birthday on April 26, Amador says she had hoped to give her daughter a tie-dye party because she had been talking about wanting to transform T-shirts with those bright swirls. But Amador calculated what shirts would cost for a family of five and decided instead to decorate the house with balloons leftover from an earlier celebration.

Despite their circumstances, she says, she and her husband made sure Grace felt special.

Around that time, the family also received financial help and support from people at their church. Amador gets choked up when she talks about how they made sure her family stayed housed and fed.

People dropped off bananas, milk and eggs, she says, during the time when her family needed support most.

“It is just sad,” she says, “that my own government isn’t part of my support network.”

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