Latest Update 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, led by Attorneys General Becerra and Racine, 17 cities and counties, 10 civil rights organizations, and five Maryland immigrant advocates filed four briefs in support of our lawsuit challenging the Trump State Department's illegal, anti-immigrant “public charge” policy.


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.

The government must respond to our lawsuit in the coming months.

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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John Lewis


Litigating challenges to unlawful executive branch activity regarding immigration, civil rights, health care, education, veterans’ affairs, and more.

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Karianne Jones


Litigating cases against the Executive Branch on issues including veterans’ rights, travelers’ rights, and immigration.

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Ben Seel

Counsel & Legal Analyst

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

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