AG Racine Sues Trump Administration Over “Public Charge” Policy That Targets Legal Immigrants

DHS Rule Would Force Legal Immigrants to Choose Between Basic Services and Jeopardizing Their Immigration Status

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today joined a coalition of five Attorneys General in filing a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Final Rule, known as the “Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Public Charge Rule.” The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims the Rule targets working immigrants and their families by creating unnecessary new barriers to lawful admission to the United States. The Rule discourages hardworking eligible immigrants and their families from accessing critical health, nutrition, and housing programs that supplement their modest wages and help them make ends meet. The Rule creates such a strict standard that, if it were applied to citizens across the country, a substantial portion would be considered likely to be a ‘public charge’. 

Public benefit programs are designed to help working families make ends meet and ensure strong, healthy families. Current guidance by the federal government defines a public charge as a person who is primarily dependent on either public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutional long-term care at the government’s expense. The Rule declares that use of additional government programs, including nutrition and food support through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), healthcare through Medicaid, and housing for families through Section 8 housing assistance, now constitute grounds for a public charge determination. These changes would discourage many immigrants and mixed immigration-status families, who are not otherwise subject to the rule, from accessing benefits for which they are eligible and entitled. It will also make it harder for hard-working, low and moderate-income immigrants to be admitted into the United States or get green cards.

Approximately 100,000 of the District’s 700,000 residents are immigrants. A study by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that, under current rules, approximately 1 percent of the District’s non-citizen residents are at risk of being labeled an inadmissible “public charge.” But under the Trump administration’s new rule, due to take effect in October, nearly one-third of non-citizen District residents who are lawfully in the country would be at risk of being deemed a “public charge,” and thus ineligible to legally remain here or become legal permanent residents.

In the lawsuit, the Attorneys General argue that the Rule: 

  • Violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment: The Rule will disproportionately block admission of non-white, non-European immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Africa. It will also prevent higher numbers of immigrants of color from extending their visas or becoming lawful permanent residents, and ultimately create more obstacles in the path to U.S. citizenship.
  • Is arbitrary and capricious: The Rule punishes immigrants for participating in widely used public benefits programs that are designed to mitigate economic inequality and bolster self-sufficiency, particularly among low wage workers. The Rule also fails to adequately assess the costs that increasing the poverty of families and U.S. citizen children will have on the nation, its states, and communities.
  • Is contrary to law: The Rule is contrary to law, interferes with the states’ rights to protect their residents, and exceeds the Administration’s authority under federal immigration law by circumventing congressional intent.

On October 10, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security issued a proposed rule that would significantly change the grounds for excluding immigrants under the Immigration and Nationality Act. On August 14, 2019, the Rule was published in the Federal Register. AG Racine today joined the Attorneys General of California, Maine, Oregon, and Pennsylvania in filing suit.