Under new rule, fewer families and children will receive food, health care and shelter
Carson City, NV – Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford joined a coalition of 13 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over changes to the “public charge” rule that targets immigrants and their families. Under the changes, if an immigrant who is legally in the country uses benefits to which he or she is entitled―such as food assistance to feed their U.S. citizen children or housing assistance―even for a short time, the federal government may revoke their legal status, or even deport them.
Even if an individual does not use these benefits, the new rule expands the government’s ability to deny visa renewal or permanent residency to anyone they predict will use a broad range of short-term benefits, without any clear formula for making that determination.
“I pledged to protect Nevada’s families, and I will continue to protect our families from the Trump Administration’s numerous attacks,” said AG Ford. “This proposed change is not only mean-spirited, it essentially makes legal immigrants choose between maintaining their legal status and receiving assistance to meet basic needs, like food, health care and housing. It’s unconscionable.”
Federal law allows many lawful immigrants to apply for public benefits if they have been in the country for at least five years. In their complaint, the coalition of attorneys general assert that DHS violated federal immigration statutes, the Welfare Reform Act and the Administrative Procedure Act when it unlawfully expanded the definition of “public charge.” Under long-standing law and policies, a public charge is an individual whose survival depends upon a specific public benefit―cash assistance―or who is institutionalized for long-term care at government expense. This does not include temporary assistance, such as food or housing assistance or health care, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Immigration officers can deny new visas, visa renewals and lawful permanent residency under the public charge rule only if the applicant meets this concrete definition. If an individual already present in the U.S. becomes a public charge, they can be deported.
Under the new rule, a public charge will now include lawfully present individuals or families who will use a broad range of federal assistance for housing, food or health care at any time in the future, for as short as four months. The new definition expands immigration officials’ ability to deny visas and permanent residency to any individual who they predict may use these types of assistance in the future. If permanent residents who have used government assistance leave the country for 180 days, they may also be labeled a public charge when they apply to return, potentially losing their status.
Many visa holders and applicants for permanent residency will refrain from seeking assistance for themselves or their families because it could make them ineligible to renew their legal immigration status or become a permanent resident, exposing them to deportation. As a result, fewer families and children will receive services they need, including food, health care and housing. Many children will go without adequate meals, vaccines or shelter, and more families will suffer homelessness. Hundreds of thousands of individuals will lose health care for themselves and their families. Many of these people will go to the emergency room for routine medical care, requiring states to cover the vastly more expensive medical costs. Additionally, women will lose routine reproductive care services, resulting in more unintended pregnancies, more high-risk deliveries and increased costs for newborns whose health is compromised by the lack of adequate pre-natal care.
The attorneys general assert that the rule violates the Immigration and Nationality Act by redefining “public charge” in a way unconnected to its original meaning and Congress’ intent. The attorneys general also assert that DHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act in numerous ways, including by reversing a decades-old, consistent policy without reasoned analysis and offering an explanation for the rule that runs counter to the evidence before the agency.
The filed complaint is attached.