The Latest: The Biden administration rescinds the Trump Department of Homeland Security rule on “Public Charge.” The Biden administration recently issued a new rule restoring the decades-old definition of public charge. Still pending is the issuance of a parallel rule for the Department of State–sweeping Trump’s racist public charge policies from the books once and for all. (updated: September, 2022)

BACKGROUND

From the very beginning of his administration, President Trump and his advisors sought to twist immigration law to support his racist, anti-immigrant agenda. A prime example is the Trump administration’s repeated efforts to revise the rules surrounding “public charge,” a provision in immigration law that bars immigrants who are primarily dependent on public assistance from coming to the United States. Democracy Forward and the City of Baltimore challenged public charge action brought by the Department of State.

First, in January 2018, the administration quietly–and unlawfully–amended the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual to consider whether visa applicants or their family members, including their U.S. citizen family members, have received non-cash benefits, including 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.

Democracy Forward filed the first lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s public charge policies. And we won the first victory against those policies, in a ruling acknowledging that Baltimore had plausibly alleged harm from those policies as well as their racist origins.

In October 2019, the administration tried again, issuing new rules to change how the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department define public charge. Once again, the administration deviated from longstanding policy and rammed through important changes without sufficient opportunity for public comment. We fought back again–amending our lawsuit to challenge the new State Department rules, and backing up our claims with an extensive evidentiary filing showing how those rules harm immigrant families and the city as a whole.

The Trump administration expressly acknowledged that families and cities would be hurt by these changes–facing higher rates of communicable diseases, malnourished infants, and poverty and homelessness. And Baltimore and its residents felt the impact. For example, enrollment in the city’s Head Start program virtually ceased among the city’s African immigrant population after the start of the 2018 school year. Despite that, the Trump administration continued to implement President Trump’s well-known hostility towards certain immigrant groups—most notably Hispanic, Asian, and African communities.

This case has been stayed while the Biden Administration reconsiders these Trump-era rules and seeks to turn the page on the Trump administration’s racist legacy. We’ll continue the fight until all of these rules have been rescinded and immigrants no longer have to choose between supporting their families and staying together in the United States.

Last updated: September, 2022

 

 

 

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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