Latest Update May 15, 2020

Case Advances Against Trump State Dept’s Unlawful “Public Charge” Policies

Our filing follows the court’s decision last September rejecting the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss the case and concluding that President Trump’s many offensive comments about immigrants “plausibly constitute prejudice” that motivated the drastic upending of longstanding U.S. immigration policy. The motion for summary judgment was filed on May 15, 2020. The case now seeks to invalidate both the 2018 FAM change and the 2019 Interim Final Rule.

In January 2018, the Trump Administration made an unlawful, under-the-radar change to the State Department’s definition of “public charge,” a provision in immigration law that limits who may come to the United States. Specifically, the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual to allow consular officers to consider whether visa applicants or their family members, including their U.S. citizen family members, have received non-cash benefits. Non-cash benefits include essential public programs like free school lunches, public health vaccinations, and Head Start. The State Department provided no prior notice of this change, nor any explanation for why it decided to deviate from the decades-old definition of public charge which explicitly prohibited consular officers from considering the use of such programs. We’re suing in partnership with the City of Baltimore.

The Trump Administration’s attempts to expand the meaning of public charge deter immigrants and their families from using programs for which they’re legally eligible. The Department of Homeland Security recently issued a similar proposed rule regarding public charge and solicited public comment. In that rule, the Department expressly acknowledged that families and cities will be hurt by these changes–facing higher rates of communicable diseases, malnourished infants, and poverty and homelessness. Yet despite the significance of these policy changes, the Trump Administration nonetheless decided to implement the State Department policy without any serious consideration of its effects, or opportunity for public comment.

We partnered with Baltimore to file a lawsuit defending immigrants against the Trump Administration’s attacks. Baltimore and its residents have already begun to feel the impact. To offer just one example, enrollment in the city’s Head Start program has virtually ceased among the city’s African immigrant population since the start of the 2018 school year. Our lawsuit explains that the State Department change was motivated by the Trump Administration’s well-known hostility towards certain immigrant groups—most notably Hispanic, Asian, and African communities—and violated the federal laws governing administrative agencies, including the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection. We’re asking the Court to declare the changes void and require consular officers to consider visa applications using the previous criteria.

November 28, 2018

We filed suit, alleging that the State Department’s attempt to expand the meaning of public charge is unlawful.

February 25, 2019

Trump administration moves to dismiss our lawsuit

The filing acknowledged that State’s public charge change could result in more visa rejections: “It is true that application of the new guidance, compared to the earlier guidance, could potentially lead to individuals being denied visas on 'public charge' grounds more frequently.” Forbes: New Data Reveal State Department Visa Denials Surged In 2018

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February 27, 2019

New data shows that visa denials increased more than 300% after State’s unlawful public charge policy was implemented

FY2018 visa statistics show that the Department initially rejected 13,450 immigrant visa applicants as inadmissible on public charge grounds. This represents a 316 percent increase from 2017, when 3,237 immigrant visas were initially denied on public charge grounds. ABC News: Trump administration to deny more visa applicants who've used public assistance

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March 15, 2019

Baltimore files opposition spotlighting the new data demonstrating harm

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March 22, 2019

In Four “Friend of the Court” Briefs, Supporters Detail Harms Caused by Trump Administration's Unlawful Change to Immigration Policy

A coalition of 19 states, 17 cities and counties, 10 civil rights organizations, and five Maryland immigrant advocates laid out the many different harms caused by this unlawful and discriminatory change to the definition of public charge, which range from rising costs for states and local governments to families refusing to seek medical or food assistance for which they are eligible out of fear that they, or a loved one, would be denied a visa under the new policy.

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September 20, 2019


The Court rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss our case, explaining, among other things, that President Trump’s many offensive comments about immigrants “plausibly constitute prejudice” that motivated the drastic upending of longstanding U.S. immigration policy.

February 7, 2020

Baltimore Expands Lawsuit To Challenge Additional Changes Made Without Public Input

The new filing challenges the State Department's Interim Final Rule (IFR), which, similar to the FAM change, was rushed out with the manifest intent of targeting immigrants, particularly immigrants of color.

May 15, 2020

BALTIMORE FILES MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Against Trump State Dept’s Unlawful “Public Charge” Policies

Baltimore advanced its case against the Trump Administration’s public charge changes, now seeking to invalidate both the 2018 FAM change and the 2019 Interim Final Rule. We argue that: the government cannot rely on the “good cause” exception for dispensing with notice and comment; they've overlooked the extensive historical record on public charge; and they’ve failed to provide any rational justification for expanding the term to encompass the isolated use of supplemental, non-cash benefits.

May 22, 2020

The U.S. House of Representatives and Over a Dozen Immigration Law Scholars Submitted Amicus Briefs in Support of Our Challenge

The amici forcefully argue that the State Department’s new public charge definition deviates from over a hundred years of interpretation of the term and unlawfully exceeds the State Department’s authority. The two briefs urge the court to invalidate the State Department’s public charge policies.

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July 2, 2020


John Lewis

Senior Counsel

Litigating challenges to unlawful actions at the federal and state level.

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Karianne Jones

Senior Counsel

Litigating cases on issues involving, among other things, gender justice, civil rights, and workplace justice.

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Ben Seel


Focusing on justice, national security, immigration, and health care issues.

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