PRESIDENT TRUMP promised that the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill he signed in March, providing direct payments to tens of millions of Americans, would “deliver urgently needed relief to our nation’s families, workers and businesses.” But more out of spite than in the furtherance of any rational policy goal, several million Americans were specifically excluded from the relief plan: U.S. citizens who are children or spouses of undocumented immigrants.

In the midst of a pandemic ravaging the nation, lawmakers and the administration saw fit to insert and enact that provision of the law, for no apparent reason beyond its punitive effect. The vast majority of the nation’s babies, toddlers, middle-schoolers and teenagers younger than 17 are eligible for $500 payments — generally rendered to their parents — but not if either their mother or father is an unauthorized immigrant.

Nor can U.S. citizen parents receive the $1,200 payment to which they would otherwise be entitled if they file taxes jointly with an undocumented spouse. A household consisting of a married couple with two U.S. citizen children, which would otherwise qualify for $3,400 in benefits, would receive nothing if the undocumented mother filed a joint return with her citizen husband.

Singling out children for punishment arising from their parents’ immigration status is a senseless act of vengeance. The Trump administration’s attitudes toward legal and illegal immigrants are morally odious and pragmatically misguided, yet this policy stands out as uniquely cruel given that the immigration status of parents does not exclude their U.S. citizen children from receiving a host of other federal benefits, including welfare, food stamps and housing assistance.

What’s particularly senseless is that the administration’s policy of impoverishing households that include undocumented immigrants coincides with a moment in which the nation’s food supply — heavily dependent on those very immigrants — is in peril. By the government’s own estimate, half of all field hands in the country, more than 1 million workers, are illegal immigrants whose labor has been deemed “essential” to keeping grocery shelves stocked with meat and produce. Other such immigrants may have lost jobs this spring in restaurants or as custodians and child-care workers, and are already struggling to care for their children.

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Maryland by advocates at Georgetown University Law Center on behalf of the citizen children of unauthorized immigrants. The plaintiffs include a 7-month-old girl, a 9-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy. The punitive policy will make it more difficult for the children to be adequately fed, housed and clothed at a time of economic duress.

The effect of the measure is to make second-class citizens of several million American children, nearly all born in this country, and to intensify their families’ suffering even as unemployment tightens its grip. The unconstitutionality of such a discriminatory policy, which flies in the face of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, is rivaled only by its mean-spiritedness.

Read more: