August 16, 2019

Thirteen states and two California counties this week filed lawsuits against the Trump administration's final rule that will allow federal officials to consider whether immigrants are receiving or are likely to receive Medicaid or other public benefits when reviewing their residency applications.

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Final rule details

The 837-page final rule, which is scheduled to take effect on Oct. 15, will broaden the criteria immigration officials can take into account when considering whether an immigrant is likely to become a so-called "public charge" while reviewing his or her immigration status or application for permanent residency. Under the final rule, officials will be able to consider whether immigrants receive:

  • Housing assistance;
  • Medicaid—with a few exceptions for pregnant women, new mothers, children, and adults under age 21, as well as whether the individual is receiving Medicaid benefits to cover an "emergency medical condition" or disability services related to education;
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which often are referred to as "food stamps"; and
  • Welfare.

Officials under the final rule will be able to deem an individual as a public charge if he or she receives one of the qualifying public benefits for 12 months or more in a 36-month period. The final rule states that immigrants who are not citizens or legal residents and who receive or are likely to receive designated public benefits above a specific threshold generally will be ineligible for a change of their status or an extension of stay.

Federal officials estimate that, under the final rule, the federal government could immediately review the immigration statuses of 382,000 non-citizens. The final rule will not apply to individuals granted political asylum or refugee status, or to the parents or families of children with U.S. citizenship.

About the lawsuits

San Francisco and California's Santa Clara County on Tuesday jointly filed their lawsuit challenging the final rule in federal court in San Francisco.

The lawsuit argues that the new regulation jeopardizes "critical public health and safety-net systems, is arbitrary and capricious, flouts federal law, and seeks to usurp Congress' authority by administratively repealing its longstanding family-based immigration system."

A separate lawsuit filed Wednesday by 13 state attorneys general (AGs) led by Washington AG Robert Ferguson (D) and Virginia AG Mark Herring (D) similarly argues that the law violates the Immigration and Nationality Act. "The rule is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion because—among other reasons—it reverses a decades-old, consistent policy without reasoned analysis," the suit states.

The other 11 state AGs who joined the suit are from Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.

New York AG Letitia James (D) on Monday said her office also plans to file a lawsuit seeking to halt the rule (Alvarado, North Jersey Record, 8/14; Klar, The Hill, 8/14; Mills Rodrigo, The Hill, 8/13; Colliver, "Pulse," Politico, 8/14; Rappleye, Becker's Hospital Review, 8/15).

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