Lawsuit challenges Trump administration’s attempts to change the definition of ‘public charge’

Stephon Johnson | 12/26/2019, 11:20 a.m.
Last week, immigrant advocates filed a federal lawsuit seeking to jointly block three interrelated “Public Charge” rules publicized by Pres. ...

Last week, immigrant advocates filed a federal lawsuit seeking to jointly block three interrelated “Public Charge” rules publicized by Pres. Donald Trump’s administration. It’s the first lawsuit of its kind.

In Make the Road New York v. Pompeo, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, advocates want to push back against rules that could transform the country’s established family-based immigration system that allows all immigrants to come to America regardless of their financial means.

The complaint was filed by multiple organizations including The Legal Aid Society, National Immigration Law Center, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, on behalf of Make the Road New York, the African Services Committee and Catholic Charities Community Services and five individual plaintiffs.

“Public charge has meant people wholly unable to take care of themselves for over 100 years in the U.S., not members of working families who may use government benefits to supplement their income. We will not allow Trump’s xenophobic interpretation to proliferate across the nation,” stated Susan Welber, staff attorney in the civil law reform unit at The Legal Aid Society. “We will challenge every new attempt to redefine public charge, and consequently, the very fabric of this country, and look forward to fighting in court on behalf of our clients and all low-income noncitizens and their families.”

The lawsuit challenges the Department of State changes to the public charge provisions of the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) Jan. 3, 2018 that advocates said lead to a twelve-fold increase in visa denials, mostly against nonwhite immigrants. It also challenges the Interim Final Rule that began on Oct. 11, 2019 that changes the public charge regulations that would require DOS to apply the same enjoined Department of Homeland Security “public charge” criteria to immigrants who have to undergo consular processing before entering the country to join their parents, children and spouses.

Another policy––the “Presidential Proclamation Suspending the Entry of Immigrants Who Will Financially Burden the Health Care System”––issued on Oct. 4, 2019, would bar entry to any immigrant who can’t demonstrate the ability to obtain certain kinds of private health insurance within 30 days of arrival.

“The Trump administration’s multiple attempts to restrict family-based immigration by executive mandate are an unlawful and discriminatory attack on diverse low-and moderate-income families of color,” stated Joanna Cuevas Ingram, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center.

These actions dramatically alter longstanding immigration policy and undermine the goals of the Affordable Care Act and other health insurance programs established by Congress,” continued Ingram. “We stand with our plaintiffs and their families and with immigrant communities across the country as we continue to fight against these dangerous, unlawful, and racially motivated attacks.”

Advocates claim Trump administration’s violating the immigration statutes and the Constitution.

The State Department rules closely track the changes made to “public charge” determinations under the blocked Department of Homeland Security rule, the Trump administration wants to redefine the “public charge” from those who rely on government aid for support to include anyone likely to use any amount, at any time in the future––even after becoming a U.S. citizen––of cash and non-cash benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps and federal housing subsidies.

Attorneys have labeled this a “wealth test” for immigrants and says the proclamation provides no evidence that immigrants are more burdensome to healthcare resources than Americans.

“The Trump administration’s recent attempts to unlawfully undermine and restrict family-based immigration threatens serious harm to immigrant families who are trying to reunite with eligible relatives both living in the United States and abroad. African Services Committee represents some of the most vulnerable populations who will be devastated by the implementation of these illegitimate policies,” stated ASC Supervising Attorney Franco Torres.

African Services Committee will continue to challenge these arbitrary and capricious attempts to redefine public charge into a virtual wall that prevents lawful immigration and family unification,” concluded Torres.