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


Supporters Provide Court with Real-Life Stories of Immigrants Harmed By the Trump Administration’s Discriminatory Policy

Washington D.C.—  A coalition of 19 states, 17 cities and counties, 10 civil rights organizations, and five Maryland immigrant advocates filed four “friend of the court” briefs in support of a lawsuit filed by the City of Baltimore and co-counsel Democracy Forward challenging the Trump administration’s illegal change to a longstanding State Department immigration policy. The briefs lay 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. These briefs make plain the sweeping effects of the FAM change and the human toll it exacts. Indeed, for the first time in seven years one organization recounts seeing a client voluntarily turn down all benefits, in whatever form, for which they are eligible.


Excerpts from the briefs include the following:


  • In the brief led by Attorneys General for California and the District of Columbia, 19 States—home to more than 26 million immigrants from around the world, many of whom are long-term residents with U.S. citizen relatives—outlined how the FAM change disrupts “States’ benefit administration, undermines public health, and will have negative consequences to our residents and our states’ economies.” The States described how the FAM change “places severe obstacles in front of families who seek to reunify, thus, harming our residents’ ability to be self-sufficient,” and detailed the many programs affected including school meals, child care assistance programs, and assistance for pregnant women, highlighting the numbers of cancellations of health care appointments.


  • Similarly, the brief submitted by 17 cities and counties described how the Trump administration’s policy change will harm local economies. The cities and counties, which span the country and represent 12 million people, explained that the “change to the criteria for a public charge determination in the FAM will undermine localities’ economic growth and shrink their budgets. In general, immigration has a positive impact on economic growth, benefiting non-immigrant U.S. citizens as well as the economy as a whole.” More broadly, the brief emphasizes that the FAM change, and the Administration’s underlying hostility toward immigrants, “betrays this country’s ideals and impedes local governments’ abilities to foster welcoming and thriving communities for all of their residents.”


  • The brief filed by a coalition of 10 civil rights organizations, represented by law firm Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, traces the history of the “public charge” test from its origins as a racially exclusionary “weapon for prejudice,” connecting that dark past to the racial animus that underpins the Trump Administration’s policy change. In particular, the brief points to the “frequent, overt remarks by President Trump disparaging immigrants from certain countries and backgrounds,” as well as “the clearly foreseeable disproportionate impact the new rule will have on immigrant communities of color.” As the organizations conclude: the “Trump administration does not desire to uplift immigrant families,” and has instead implemented policies that “will drastically and disparately impact racial minorities for years to come.”


  • A brief filed by the Public Justice Center, the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, CASA de Maryland, Catholic Charities of Baltimore, and the Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance lays out the agonizing choice of a woman—a single mother with a preteen U.S. citizen child—who has “begun refusing all forms of benefits for her and her son … even though she is unemployed and having trouble finding employment.” This story marks the only instance, in the past seven years, in which that organization can recall a client voluntarily turning down all benefits for which they are eligible. The brief also describes the story of a mother of two American-born children who, because of “the public charge policy change, combined with the current climate related to immigration policy” is afraid to return to her home country to process her immigrant visa “even though such voluntary act of departure is the lawful thing to do to legalize her immigration status.”


The amicus briefs, which have since been accepted by the Court,were filed on Friday, March 22, 2019 by:


  • Amici States and the District of Columbia: State of California, the District of Columbia and the States of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.


  • Amici Cities and Counties: The City of Oakland, California, The County of Montgomery, Maryland, The County of Alameda, California, The City of Austin, Texas, The City of Boise, Idaho, The City of Los Angeles, California, The County of Marin, California,  The City of Mountain View, California, The City of Palm Springs, California, The City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The City of Sacramento, California, The City of Saint Paul, Minnesota, The County of Santa Cruz, California, The City of Seattle, Washington, The City of Stockton, California, The City of Tucson, Arizona, and The City of West Hollywood, California.


  • Amici Civil Rights Organizations: Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Muslim Advocates, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, Inc., Americans for Immigrant Justice, MacArthur Justice Center, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, American Immigration Council, National Immigrant Justice Center, and Southern Poverty Law Center.


  • Amici Maryland Immigrant Advocates: Public Justice Center, Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Casa de Maryland, Catholic Charities of Baltimore, Immigration Legal Services, and Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance.


In January 2018, the Department of State sought to limit legal immigration to the United States by revising its Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) to expand the definition of who may be considered likely to become a “public charge,” a move that makes it easier to deem applicants ineligible for a visa. Newly released data shows that immigrant visa denials skyrocketed by over 300 percent after the change was implemented.


On November 28, 2018 the City of Baltimore filed suit against the Trump administration to challenge the State Department’s changed definition of public charge. The Baltimore City Solicitor has co-counseled with nonprofit Democracy Forward to bring this suit. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. The City of Baltimore is asking the Court to declare the FAM change arbitrary and capricious, procedurally invalid, and unconstitutional, vacate the changes to the FAM, and enjoin the government from adjudicating visas using the tougher standards.




Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.


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