City to sue Trump administration over change in ‘public charge’ immigration policy

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Baltimore immigrants protest the Trump administration’s policy changes in February 2017. Photo by Epi Ren, via Flickr.

The City of Baltimore plans to sue the Trump administration over its proposed, highly controversial change to longstanding federal immigration policy that would make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain green cards or admission to the United States if they use public assistance like Medicare, food stamps and housing subsidies.

City Solicitor Andre Davis said in an email Tuesday that the case “concerns Trump’s attempts to make it harder for underprivileged immigrants to come to the United States” by changing the definition of “public charge” in the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual. The phrase is a provision of immigration law that the U.S. State Department can use to deny entry or green card authorization to someone if they currently or will primarily depend on government-funded long-term care or cash assistance.

For decades, “public charge” has applied for those using cash assistance or long-term government-funded care to be in the country. But it hasn’t included other forms of assistance like nutrition and housing assistance, including Section 8 and public housing, or health care programs like Medicare Part D and Medicaid.

But under a proposed rule change announced earlier this year, and now up for public comment through Dec. 10, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would change the rule to include those benefits (with some exceptions, such as emergency medical conditions covered by Medicaid) as a way of deterring more immigrants from entering the country.

“Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement when the White House announced the proposal in September.

Immigrant rights advocates worry the change will push immigrants around the country to jump off of public benefits, increasing health risks, emergency room visits and poverty. It’s already happening, Politico and other outlets have reported, with data and anecdotal reports pointing to fewer families using food stamps—even for programs that aren’t included, due to spreading misinformation.

Davis wrote in an email that the proposal “threatens to deter immigrants, millions of whom are lawfully present in the United States or are naturalized citizens, from obtaining food, housing, medical care, and other necessities for which they and their families are indisputably eligible through public programs.”

The changes would “greatly burden underprivileged immigrants in the United States without offering virtually any plausible explanation for discarding the decades-old understanding of public charge settled by multiple federal agencies,” he added.

Others have threatened to sue over the rule change, including in New York and California. Asked if other cities or states are also planning to announce or file lawsuits on Wednesday, Davis said, “I believe we’ll be first but others are under active consideration.”

The lawsuit will be filed in federal court. Davis said he will provide more details about the case at a press conference tomorrow morning at City Hall.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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6 COMMENTS

  1. Like we (The City of Baltimore) have the money to sue the Federal Gov’t over immigration? Really? We have issues in the schools and countless homeless on the street and she (Pugh) wants to pursue this? Misapplied authority and misappropriated priority.

  2. I thought illegal immigrants were not entitled for state benefits. If “public Charge” is long term cash assistance for staying in the US, then this is simply another form of government assistance. How much does this cost the American tax payers?

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