Press Release

AG Shapiro Files Suit Challenging Trump Administration Public Charge Rule

August 16, 2019 | Topic: Rights

Proposed Rule targets low-income, legal immigrants by creating unnecessary barriers to lawful admission to US

HARRISBURG—Attorney General Josh Shapiro today filed a lawsuit in a coalition of five Attorneys General challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Final Rule, known as the “Public Charge Rule.” The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that the Rule targets working, legal immigrants and their families by creating unnecessary new barriers to lawful admission to the United States.

The Rule discourages legal immigrants and their families from accessing critical health, nutrition, and housing programs that supplement their modest wages and help them make ends meet. The Rule creates such a strict standard that, if it were applied to citizens across the country, a substantial portion would be considered likely to be a “public charge.”

Critically, the Rule does not apply to all immigrants or to all public benefit programs. The Rule applies only to individuals seeking admission to the United States, an extension or change of visa status, or lawful permanent residency. And the Rule applies only to the use of five non-cash federal public benefit programs: Medicaid (called Medical Assistance in Pennsylvania), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and Section 9 Public Housing.

“The Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule is a blatant attack on low-income immigrants who are here legally, contributing to our society, and standing on their own two feet—the exact people who are welcomed to our nation by the Emma Lazarus poem emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “These hard-working immigrants— predominantly of color—followed all of the rules, but now the Trump Administration is pulling the rug out from under them. While this Rule does not apply to all government benefits or all immigrants, it is undeniable that this is a scare tactic intended to deter immigration to our country and put up additional barriers for immigrants to access family-sustaining benefits. I will not stand for this.”

Public benefit programs are designed to help working families make ends meet and ensure strong, healthy families in Pennsylvania. Current guidance by the federal government defines a public charge as a person who is primarily dependent on either public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutional long-term care at the government’s expense. The Rule declares that any use of the five non-cash government programs now constitutes grounds for a public charge determination.

These changes will discourage many legal immigrants and mixed immigration-status families, who are not otherwise subject to the rule, from accessing benefits for which they are eligible and entitled. There are 175,600 immigrants receiving Medical Assistance and almost 80,000 immigrants receiving SNAP in Pennsylvania today. If allowed to take effect, the Rule could cause tens of thousands of Pennsylvania families to forego health insurance and basic nutrition.  It will also make it harder for hard-working, low- and moderate-income immigrants to be admitted into the United States or get green cards.

In the lawsuit, the Attorneys General argue that the Rule:

  • Violates the Equal Protection Guarantee of the Fifth Amendment: The Rule will disproportionately block admission of non-white, non-European immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Africa. It will also prevent higher numbers of immigrants of color from extending their visas or becoming lawful permanent residents, and ultimately create more obstacles in the path to U.S. citizenship.
  • Is Arbitrary and Capricious: The Rule punishes legal immigrants for participating in widely-used public benefits programs that are designed to mitigate economic inequality and bolster self-sufficiency, particularly among low wage workers. The Rule also fails to adequately assess the costs that increasing the poverty of families and U.S. citizen children will have on the nation, its states, and communities.
  • Is Contrary to Law: The Rule exceeds the Administration’s authority under federal immigration law by circumventing congressional intent and interferes with the states’ rights to protect their residents.

On October 10, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security issued a proposed rule that would significantly change the grounds for excluding immigrants under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Pennsylvania and a coalition of states filed comments opposing the proposal on December 10, 2018. On August 14, 2019, the Rule was published in the Federal Register. The lawsuit today was filed by a coalition that included Pennsylvania, California, Maine, Oregon, and the District of Columbia.

“I’m proud to stand with my colleague Attorneys General in challenging this rule and sending a clear message to the Trump Administration that we will not tolerate this unconstitutional, un-American assault on the fundamental values of our nation,” said Attorney General Shapiro.

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