/“Public charge” rule: Californias Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties sue to block Trumps immigration rule

“Public charge” rule: Californias Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties sue to block Trumps immigration rule


Two of the most populous counties in California sued the Trump administration on Tuesday over its newly unveiled sweeping regulation that would make it easier for the government to deny green cards and temporary visas for legal immigrants who use public benefits like food stamps and government-subsidized housing.  

The lawsuit, filed by Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties in U.S. District Court, is the first of numerous court challenges advocacy groups and Democratic-led jurisdictions have vowed to mount against the so-called “public charge” regulation, which they believe will penalize low-income immigrants and their U.S. citizen children. The final version of the regulation — a key item on the administration’s hard-line immigration agenda — was revealed on Monday and is slated to go into effect in mid October. 

“This is just a new front in the Trump administration’s aggressive, foolish, misguided attacks on immigrant families,” James Williams, counsel for Santa Clara County, told CBS News on Tuesday.

In its suit, the affluent and diverse counties contend that the rule conflicts with the statutory definition of the “public charge” term — first codified in U.S. immigration law in the 1880s — by expanding the type and amount of benefits used by immigrants that will count against them as they seek to stay or move to the U.S. 

The plaintiffs also believe the proposal violates the Administrative Procedure Act because they believe the government has not sufficiently justified the seismic change to the legal immigration system.

Immigration authorities currently ask green card applicants to prove they won’t be a burden on the country, but the new regulation would require caseworkers to consider the use of government housing, food and medical assistance such as the widely used Section 8 housing vouchers and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The rule would subject immigrant households who fall below certain income thresholds to the “public charge” test — which would also consider how well applicants speak, read and write English. Under the proposed rule, any diagnosed medical condition that requires extensive medical treatment would also “weigh heavily” in evaluations by caseworkers.

Asylum seekers and refugees would be exempt from this “public charge” test, which administration officials said would affect about 382,000 people every year.

To defend the regulation, administration officials, including acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) director Ken Cuccinelli, have maintained that it’s designed to promote “self sufficiency” and “success” in immigrant communities.

Citizenship And Immigration Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli Holds Press Briefing
Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli speaks about immigration policy at the White House during a briefing on August 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Win McNamee / Getty Images


In an interview on Tuesday morning, Cuccinelli offered an alternative line to “The New Colossus” poem inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” he told NPR to defend the rule. The original sonnet reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Although the rule would affect immigrants in the U.S. who are not citizens or permanent residents — as well as people seeking to immigrate to the country from abroad — researchers have already detailed a “spillover effect” in which both green card holders and U.S. citizens reported avoiding public benefits because of the proposal’s expected implementation.  

USCIS officials on Monday conceded that they expect the rule to have this so-called “chilling effect” on people who should not be affected by it, but they maintained that they have not quantified the potential disenrollment. 

Pressed by CBS News on whether the agency would mount a public information campaign to mitigate the “chilling effect” being reported by researchers and advocates, officials said they will conduct some public engagement.

But one official said it is “incumbent upon outside organizations, including people in the media, to make sure they responsibly educate the public” about the rule.