AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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.