Lawsuits Nationwide Seek to Block Trump Policy That Denies Citizenship to Low-Income Earning Immigrants

By Shani Saxon Oct 09, 2019

Immigration advocates are once again heading to court to fight a Trump administration policy, Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday (October 8). Nearly a dozen lawsuits have been filed across the country in an effort to stop the government from implementing the updated Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds, also known as the public charge rule, which is scheduled to take effect on October 15.

The public charge rule punishes immigrants who have applied for government services including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and housing assistance by denying them a green card or a path to American citizenship. According to Al Jazeera, “lawsuits have been filed from New York to California with plaintiffs including states, counties, cities, service providers and immigrants.”

The news outlet reports:


A judge in California held a hearing last week, while a judge in New York held one on Monday, and others are scheduled for this week, with the lawsuits asking for preliminary injunctions to keep the rule from being enforced while challenges to its legality are ongoing.

The policy currently states that immigrants who want to become permanent residents have to first prove they won’t become “public charges,” or burdens to the United States. As Colorlines previously reported, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—an agency within the Department of Homeland Security—seeks to broaden the policy by expanding the definition of a public charge:


This policy also sets a “vast array of new criteria to assess whether an individual is ‘likely’ to someday become a public charge,” according to The Washington Post. For example, green card applicants dealing with medical conditions or financial challenges that would prevent them from covering “any reasonably foreseeable medical costs,” could find themselves ineligible for approval. Immigrants are at the mercy of this new rule if they’ve been approved for any public benefit, even if they never received or made use of the benefit. Other signs that a person could “likely” become a “public charge” include low credit scores, no private health insurance, no college degree and limited English language skills. 

“I’ve litigated against federal and state agencies over the years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Liz Schott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told Al Jazeera. Her organization has been tracking the progress of the various lawsuits. “It’s a tremendously broad set of players reflecting the huge significance and impact of the rule.”

The policy shift has “outraged immigrants and their advocates,” according to Al Jazeera. Immigrants who qualify for public assistance for themselves and their families are now too afraid to apply because they fear the repercussions. From Al Jazeera:


Roughly 544,000 people apply for green cards annually. According to the government, 382,000 are in categories that would make them subject to the new review, according to the government.


Immigrants make up a small portion of those getting public benefits, since many are ineligible to get them due to their immigration status.


For Medicaid, non-citizen immigrants are only 6.5 percent of participants, while more than 87 percent are native-born. For food assistance, immigrants are 8.8 percent of recipients, with over 85 percent of participants being native-born.

Judges have reportedly indicated a willingness to issue rulings before October 15.