State Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday announced a lawsuit against the Trump administration over a new, stricter interpretation of the “public charge rule,” which could deny green cards to legal immigrants who have needed or may need certain forms of public assistance.
“For generations, the United States has been a haven for immigrants seeking opportunity and upward mobility, and the Trump administration’s unlawful reinterpretation of the public charge rule turns this history on its head, excluding hundreds of thousands of immigrants — immigrants with disabilities and immigrants with limited resources,” James said at a press conference in New York City on Tuesday.
Under the administration’s policy change, announced earlier this month, legal immigrants who use public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or housing assistance, could have a more difficult time obtaining a green card.
“They are just trying to make things more difficult for any kind of immigrant,” David Stein, of Hudson, said.
The new criteria for “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” will set new standards for applicants seeking legal permanent residency in the United States, criteria that will skew the process in favor of highly skilled, high-income immigrants.
Under the new interpretation, wealth, education, age and English-language skills will take on greater importance in the green card review process. U.S. immigration law has long-standing provisions to screen out foreigners who might be a burden on society, but the rule change amounts to an expansion of the government’s definition of “public charge” — and who is deemed likely to become one.
Kenneth Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said at a White House briefing that his agency is seeking to bring precision to an existing tenet of law that has lacked a clear definition.
“Through the public charge rule, President Trump’s administration is reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America,” said Cuccinelli, evoking his own family’s Italian ancestry to characterize previous generations of immigrants as bootstrap-pullers. “This administration is promoting our shared history and encouraging the core values needed to make the American dream a reality.”
“I think the president is right,” said Charlotte Williams, of Hudson. “If they want to come here, they should be willing to work and not depend on society to take care of them.”
Several states have joined New York in the lawsuit, including Connecticut and Vermont, James said Tuesday.
“The public charge rule is 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,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said.
The three-state coalition argues that the Department of Homeland Security’s definition of the rule “disregards clear congressional intent, and a century’s worth of case law” that stipulates immigrants who use basic, non-cash benefits are not public charges because they do not primarily depend on the government, Tong said.
“It’s really critically important that we welcome to these shores immigrants of all economic statuses and it’s important that we understand that we welcome to these shores immigrants who are not just rich, but immigrants who are also poor,” James said. “This country is about equality for all individuals.”
The public charge rule has applied only to individuals “primarily dependent on the government for support over the long term” for the past 130 years, James said.
“We intend to uphold that standard,” James said.
Hasan Shafiqullah, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit, said at the press conference that the stricter interpretation of the public charge rule penalizes low-income immigrants.
“The Trump administration is attempting to fundamentally transform our country from a nation that welcomes people from all backgrounds and who work hard to achieve a better life, to one that is rigged only in favor of the wealthy,” Shafiqullah said. “We must not allow this administration to demonize and punish low-income immigrants for accessing the basic benefits that they are legally entitled to.”
The new rule is expected to take effect Oct. 15.
The Washington Post News Service contributed to this report.