New York, Connecticut and Vermont sue to block Trump's public charge rule

The three Northeastern states argue that the new public charge rule "intentionally discriminates against Latino immigrants and immigrants of color."
Image: New York State Attorney General Letitia James makes an announcement regarding U.S. President Trump's public charge rule during a news conference in New York
New York State Attorney General Letitia James makes an announcement regarding President Trump's public charge rule in New York on Tuesday.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

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By Nicole Acevedo

Three states have come together to attempt to block an effort from the Trump administration to limit pathways to citizenship for certain legal immigrants.

New York's Attorney General Letitia James announced on Tuesday morning that Connecticut, Vermont and New York had filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies who would be implementing and enforcing a new rule that would expand the definition of "public charge" starting on Oct. 15.

Under the new rule, officials can deem immigrants seeking to change their legal immigration status and who are enrolled in publicly funded programs such as food stamps and public health insurance as a “public charge,” meaning they will likely use public benefits in the future.

Once labeled a "public charge," immigrants would be denied green cards, visas and other forms of legal immigration status.

"Quite simply, under this rule, more children will go hungry, more families will go without medical care and more people will be living in the shadows and on the streets. We cannot and we will not let that happen,” James said.

Many families eligible to receive public benefits have dropped out of certain government programs or barred themselves from applying for assistance since a draft of the “public charge” rule was leaked last year.

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“Generations of citizens landed on the welcoming shores of Ellis Island with nothing more than a dream in their pockets,” said James in a statement. “The Trump administration’s thinly veiled efforts to only allow those who meet their narrow ethnic, racial and economic criteria to enter our nation is a clear violation of our laws and our values."

In the lawsuit, James and Attorney Generals William Tong of Connecticut and Thomas J. Donovan of Vermont say the administration arbitrarily extended the "public charge" bar in a way that violates equal protection rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs argue that the rule also discriminates against people with disabilities and low-incomes as well as immigrants of color.

The new rule is the Trump administration's latest effort "to reduce the population of permanent residents of color in the United States," according to the lawsuit.

The suit lists nine instances in which the Trump administration sought to "isolate and exclude Latino immigrants and other immigrants of color," including rescinding DACA, which protects about 700,000 young immigrants who are working or studying from deportation, a ban to travel to several majority-Muslim countries and terminating temporary immigration protections to people from Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti and El Salvador.

The Department of Homeland Security previously defined “public charge” as someone who depended on cash assistance or government-funded long-term institutional care, but the new rule expands the definition to include additional benefits such as food stamps, nonemergency Medicaid, certain prescription drug subsidies and housing vouchers.

The Trump administration argues that expanding the meaning of “public charge” helps “protect American taxpayers” and ensures "that noncitizens in this country are self-sufficient and not a strain on public resources.”

But according to the New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization, immigrants pay $405.4 billion in taxes annually, helping fund social services and programs like Medicare and Social Security.

A recent study by the Urban Institute found that over 20 percent of the immigrants they surveyed considered not applying for federal aid programs for which they were eligible, out of fear that doing so would hinder their green card application status.

The legal action comes days after the state of California and several advocacy groups filed separate lawsuits on Friday to fight against the rule.

Over 60 lawsuits have been filed to block the public charge rule, including by New Mexico, Colorado, Rhode Island, Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts, said James during a press conference Tuesday morning.

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