The City of Baltimore filed suit against the Trump Administration for unlawfully and secretly changing the State Department’s definition of “public charge,” a provision in immigration law that limits who may come to the United States. The change was motivated by the Trump Administration’s well-known hostility towards certain immigrant groups — most notably Hispanic, Asian, and African communities — and is a violation of the federal laws governing administrative agencies, including the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection. The Baltimore City Solicitor has teamed with nonprofit Democracy Forward to bring this suit.
As part of the Trump Administration’s ongoing efforts to expand the definition of “public charge,” and thereby further restrict the admission of otherwise eligible individuals to enter the U.S., the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) in January 2018 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 benefits 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 benefits.
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.
At the same time, the Trump Administration has also been determined to change the rules regarding public charge more broadly, as evidenced by a leaked draft executive order and the Department of Homeland Security’s recent proposed rule, which is currently open for public comment. Even the Trump Administration itself has acknowledged that families and cities will be hurt by these changes–facing higher rates of communicable diseases, malnourished infants, and of poverty and homelessness. 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.
The suit was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.