Two Northern California governments filed a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s new effort to deny green cards to immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps or other public aid, or might in the future, calling the new rule “irrational” and “vague.”
Officials with Santa Clara County and San Francisco said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the “public charge” rule “coerces” legal immigrants into dropping out of public health, food and housing programs, which could lead local governments to carry the burden of millions of dollars in public assistance. The jurisdictions asked a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to block the policy immediately.
The lawsuit came a day after the Trump administration unveiled the “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” rule to set tougher standards for people seeking legal permanent residency in the United States, which is a necessary step on the path to U.S. citizenship. The new requirements tip the process in favor of the wealthier, highly skilled immigrants President Trump has said he wants to attract to the country. The rule is set to take effect Oct. 15.
Lawyers for Santa Clara County and San Francisco said the Trump administration is trying to scare immigrants away from desperately needed public assistance, and they warn that the broader community could suffer from higher local assistance costs or the spread of diseases due to a lack of health care. Untreated tuberculosis or Zika could lead to public outbreaks, they say. Families could become homeless, and less public funding for food aid could affect local businesses.
Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams, who filed the lawsuit along with San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the new policy “is harmful to the entire community.”
“It’s foolish, unwise, misguided, but yet another wrongheaded attack from the Trump administration,” Williams said in an interview Tuesday.
Herrera said the 837-page rule unveiled Monday is spreading confusion in immigrant communities. Refugees and asylees are exempt, for instance, and the rule is not retroactive.
But the lawyers say many immigrants are withdrawing from the affected programs because they fear having their applications denied and being deported.
“We’re determined to see that it ends up in the legal garbage bin with the rest of this administration’s unlawful policies,” Herrera said.
The lawsuit argues that the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which states that federal regulations cannot conflict with federal laws and cannot be arbitrary and capricious. The suit says Congress allowed legal immigrants to use some means-tested programs, and they should not be discouraged from doing so.
The suit also challenges the government’s claim that the rule sets clear criteria for denying green cards, saying it considers a “plethora of factors” but does not explain the weight given to each one, making it “irrational, vague, and entirely unpredictable.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in a statement, “The public charge inadmissibility regulation lies squarely within existing law and we expect this rule to withstand any legal challenges.”
The Trump administration published the proposed rule in October and received more than 266,000 public comments about it — the vast majority in opposition.
The Department of Homeland Security said the rule, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, “provides a clear framework” for examining someone’s likelihood of becoming a public charge, examining a person’s wealth, age, education, and English fluency.
Cuccinelli, who outlined the new rule at the White House, said Tuesday that officials want to ensure that immigrants will be self-sufficient.
Asked if that conflicts with a 1903 plaque at the Statue of Liberty that reads “Give me your tired, your poor,” Cuccinelli gave NPR’s “Morning Edition” a revised version: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Trump also backed the policy Tuesday, saying it was about putting “America first.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to have the American taxpayer paying for people to come into the United States,” he said, calling the policy “long overdue.”