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California Sues to Block Denial of Green Cards for Using Public Benefits

Painting it as an economic threat and a cruel attack on immigrants, California sued Friday to stop the Trump administration’s new rule that allows the government to deny green cards to people relying on some forms of public assistance.


California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Trump’s attempt to redefine the definition of a “public charge” is a direct threat to California and its immigrant population of over 10 million. Becerra, the son of immigrants, called the rule “personal” and accused the administration of being “cowardly.”


“I can boil down to four words what it took President Trump and Trump administration 837 pages to say: They don’t like immigrants,” Becerra said during a press conference at the state Capitol.


The federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California marks the 56th time Becerra has sued the Trump administration and it comes just four days after the White House announced the new rule.


Under the rule, federal officials will look at whether a prospective green card or visa recipient is benefiting from a federal program like SNAP or Medicaid, as well as if the person is likely to do so in the future. The administration claims the rule is good for taxpayers, ensuring that immigrants who “stand on their own two feet, who will not be reliant on the welfare system” get green cards or visas.


California’s Democratic governor applauded Becerra for swiftly filing the lawsuit and then accused the president of having a “particular problem with brown people.”


“It’s remarkable what this administration is up to, it’s insidious beyond words and California will have none of it,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom.


The District of Columbia and the states of Maine, Oregon and Pennsylvania joined California in the lawsuit, which names the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S.


Citizenship and Immigration Services, along with the agencies’ directors as defendants. San Francisco and Santa Clara counties filed a similar lawsuit in the same court earlier this week, as did Washington state joined by 12 others.


The plaintiffs argue that the administration “illegally expanded” the circumstances in which federal officials can deny immigrants admission to the country. They want the court to freeze the rule on grounds that it violates the Administrative Procedure Act and Equal Protection Clause.


“The rule uproots the understanding of public charge as primary dependence on the government, creating new bars that have not been authorized by Congress, such as making low income a ‘heavily weighted’ negative factor in admissibility,” California’s lawsuit states.


As home to the largest immigrant population of any state, California’s Democratic leaders say the rule could have devastating economic, public health and social costs by pushing immigrants away from public benefits.


Nearly 25% of the country’s immigrants reside in California, and almost half of California children have at least one immigrant parent, according to the complaint. In 2015, the Legislature extended Medi-Cal coverage to low-income immigrants under the age of 18, and earlier this year Newsom signed a bill expanding coverage to people ages 19-25.


“The negative public health repercussions of reduced access to health care, housing and proper nutrition will ultimately be paid for by plaintiffs,” the complaint continues.


While announcing the rule Monday, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of immigration services, told reporters that the move “encourages and ensures self-reliance and self-sufficiency.” Cuccinelli then made waves during a follow-up interview on CNN when he said that the famous Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty refers to “people coming from Europe.”


If it passes legal muster, the rule will penalize people if they receive the benefits for more than 12 months across a three-year period and will apply to applications received after Oct. 15.


Becerra and Newsom said the state will fight the rule “every step of the way.”

“We are united as a state, we are representing the most diverse state and the world’s most diverse democracy,” Newsom said. “We every single day proudly are practicing pluralism.”

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