Advocacy groups file suit to block Trump's new 'public charge' immigration rule

Key Points
  • Several advocacy groups filed suit in a California federal court Friday to stop the Trump administration from implementing its new "public charge" rule.
  • Under the new policy, legal immigrants who use certain public benefits for more than 12 months in any 36-month period would be defined as a "public charge," which would make it more difficult for them to secure citizenship.
Colombian Born Lucrecia Arbelaez and other candidates take the oath of allegiance to become US citizens during a Naturalization Ceremony for new US citizens at the City Hall of Jersey City, New Jersey on February 22, 2017.
Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images

Several advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Friday to block the Trump administration's recently finalized "public charge" rule, which would make it harder for legal immigrants to stay in the country.

The National Immigration Law Center, Western Center on Law and Poverty, National Health Law Program and Asian Americans Advancing Justice filed the complaint in a California federal court.

The administration's new rule redefines what it means to be a "public charge" and would be applied to people primarily dependent on government assistance such as food stamps, Medicaid and housing assistance.

Legal immigrants who use one or more of these public benefits for more than 12 months in any 36-month period would be defined as a public charge, which would make it more difficult for them to secure citizenship.

The complaint says the new rule is "arbitrary" and "capricious" and would harm "low-income communities."

"This rule change is a direct attack on communities of color and their families and furthers this administration's desire to make this country work primarily for the wealthy and white," said Antionette Dozier, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty. "Our immigration system cannot be based on the racial animosities of this administration or whether or not people are wealthy."

Kenneth Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Monday that the administration revised the public charge inadmissibility rule to ensure immigrants are "self-sufficient" instead of relying on public resources.

Refugees and asylum applicants will be exempt, according to the agency's website.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said Friday, "These legal violations are part of the Trump administration's playbook which we are so familiar with. Today we ... ask the federal court in the Northern District of California to block the administration from implementing this racially motivated rule and strike it down as unlawful and unconstitutional."

The White House and Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The USCIS said in an email that the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.

More than 260,000 public comments were submitted after a draft of the public charge rule was posted last fall, the vast majority in opposition, according to the advocacy groups.

Max Wolson, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said the administration did not properly address those concerns. "There were substantial comments that talked about how bad this will be for public health, how bad this is for the economy... about how the programs are trying to penalize people," Wolson said. "We contend that they did not properly address those."

One in four U.S. citizens participate in one or more of these programs in any given year, according to the complaint.

"The bottom line is that the rule essentially puts a price tag on obtaining lawful permanent residency in the United States, shifting it away from the family-based immigration towards one restricted to people who are already relatively well off or highly skilled when they enter the country," said Shelby Gonzales, director of immigration policy at the Center on Budget Policy Priorities.