California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Friday sued to block the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, which would deny immigrants green cards if they are likely to rely on public benefits.
If it survives legal challenges and takes effect Oct. 15, 2019 as planned, the change could put a legal path to citizenship out of reach for many immigrants in California. It’s also expected to discourage people in immigrant families from accessing government food assistance and medical programs.
That, in turn, could harm the state’s economy, Becerra warns. About 95 percent of the state’s farmworkers, 42 percent of construction workers and 39 percent of child care and early education workers in the state are immigrants, according to Becerra’s office.
“This cruel policy would force working parents and families across the nation to forego basic necessities like food, housing, and healthcare out of fear,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will fight this unlawful rule every step of the way.”
In announcing the new rule, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Ken Cuccinelli said it will ensure immigrants can “stand on their own two feet.”
“If people are not able to be self-sufficient, then this negative factor is going to bear very heavily against them in a decision about whether they’ll be able to become a legal permanent resident,” he said during a briefing earlier this month.
The country has long had rules that let the government deny green cards to immigrants who are “primarily dependent” on welfare programs, such as someone receiving long-term care at a mental health institution, and therefore a burden to taxpayers. But the new guidance would dramatically expand who is considered a “public charge.”
People on government funded health insurance, food stamps, low-income housing assistance and other welfare programs, or who are deemed likely to rely on those programs in the future, could be classified as a public charge.
Millions of immigrants living in California are eligible for the state’s version of low-income health insurance program Medicaid, which is called Medi-Cal and provides health care to roughly a third of residents, including natural-born citizens.
Researchers at UCLA predict people from immigrant families, even if they wouldn’t actually be subject to the rule, will be afraid to access government aid programs out of concern that could harm their immigration applications or those of their family members.
Statewide, the researchers identified more than 2.1 million people who are enrolled in the state’s food stamp program or Medi-Cal who may be discouraged from accessing those services because of the rule. About 63,000 of those people live in Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties.
The researchers estimate that if roughly a third of those in what they call the “chilling effect” population disenroll from Medi-Cal and the food stamps program, California could lose up to $1.67 billion in federal funding. They also estimate the state could lose as many as 17,700 jobs.
The rule is already causing some immigrants to stop going to the doctor for fear that could be used against them when applying for a green card, some health providers and immigrant advocacy groups say.
“The whole point of this is fear. The whole point is to create anxiety and create that chilling effect,” Newsom said. “It’s already had its intended impact. You already are seeing a decline in people that are getting supports they’re legally entitled to -- anti-poverty support to keep them out of poverty.”
In the lawsuit California filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Becerra argues the rule will disproportionately block non-white immigrants from pursuing U.S. citizenship. It also argues it will worsen poverty in the country by discouraging immigrants from accessing services and infringes on states’ rights to protect their residents.
Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia also joined California in the lawsuit. Separately, other states and local governments, including San Francisco, have also sued to block the rule.
Newsom acknowledged that it’s not surprising that California, a liberal state that has filed more than 50 lawsuits against the Trump administration, is suing over the rule.
Becerra said his office will likely also ask a judge to suspend the rule while legal challenges make their way through court. In the meantime, he urged people worried about accessing public benefits to seek free advice from nonprofit immigration groups instead of paying private attorneys.