Connecticut has joined a multi-state lawsuit that aims to stop the Trump administration from denying green cards to immigrants who receive public assistance, including food stamps, Medicaid and housing vouchers.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Connecticut, New York and Vermont. It targets a new federal rule that Connecticut Attorney General William Tong described as “a partisan scheme to vilify immigrants who—like generations of families before them– seek support to lift their families out of poverty.”
“We are talking about access to doctors, healthy food and safe housing– the most basic foundations that kids need to grow and thrive,” he said.
The Trump administration, however, said it is imposing the new restrictions to prod immigrants toward self-sufficiency.
During an interview with NPR last week, the acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, cited Emma Lazarus’ famous poem etched into the Statue of Liberty as a rationalization for the new rule.
“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet,” he said. “And who will not become a public charge.”
Immigrants applying for green cards are already required by federal law to prove they won’t become a public charge — meaning they won’t pose a financial burden to the United States.
But under the new rule, which would take effect on Oct. 15, the definition of “public charge,” traditionally meant to refer to someone who is primarily dependent on public assistance, has been expanded for immigrants to include those who depend on one or two social service programs for limited periods of time.
The rule considers an immigrant a public charge if he or she receives public benefits for more than 12 months in any 36-month period. Those benefits include food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
The lawsuit opposing the rule, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said the new rule would have a “chilling effect” on immigrants who are seeking permanent legal status and even some who already have that status but are fearful that it might be in jeopardy if they seek assistance.
If immigrants don’t use federal social programs, the plaintiffs wrote, “the concomitant increase in homelessness, food insecurity, and undiagnosed and untreated medical issues, will force state and local governments to bear severe financial and public health consequences.”
“State and local governments will be forced to expend their own resources to assist low- and middle-class workers and their families, including citizen children, and to cover the public health and other severe consequences that will result from immigrants forgoing non-cash supplemental benefits,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit details some of the expected effects of the new rule in New York and Vermont, and estimated that in Connecticut between 6,750 and 15,750 children with non-citizen parents could lose their health coverage under Medicaid programs known as HUSKY A and HUSKY B in the state.
The lawsuit also says that Connecticut, New York and Vermont will experience disenrollment from federal public benefits at rates between 15 to 35 percent.
But the case’s legal strategy is largely based on the equal protection guarantee of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Crucial to the protection of civil rights, that clause forces federal, local and state governments to govern impartially, not draw distinctions between individuals solely on differences that are irrelevant to a legitimate governmental objective.
The Trump administration issued the final public charge rule after receiving more than 266,000 public comments on the proposal. Most were critical.
“The final rule implements this Administration’s explicit animus against immigrants of color; it is the means by which immigrants from what this Administration has described as ‘shithole countries’ will be excluded to the benefit of white, wealthy Europeans,” the lawsuit said. “The final rule weaponizes the public charge inquiry to target legal immigrants who are lawfully present in this country, who have close ties to our communities, and who Congress has expressly decided should be entitled to certain federal benefits.”
Tong was early to say Connecticut would take legal action against the public charge rule after it was finalized last week, but other states immediately filed lawsuits to block the rule.
California is leading one of those lawsuits, joined by Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. A separate lawsuit has been filed by a different group of states and is led by Washington.
Filing a separate lawsuit allows Connecticut, New York and Vermont to detail the impact the final public rule would have on their states and allows Connecticut greater participation in a forum that’s closer to home.