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MI AG Nessel Joins Colleagues in Lawsuit Against Homeland Security's "Public Charge" Rule

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and 12 other attorneys general today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over changes to the “public charge” rule that target immigrants and their families. Under the changes, if an immigrant who is legally in the United States uses benefits to which he or she is entitled ― such as food assistance to feed their U.S. citizen children or housing assistance ― even for a short time, the federal government may revoke their legal status, or even deport them.

Even if an individual does not use these benefits, the new rule expands the government’s ability to deny visa renewal or permanent residency to anyone they predict will use a broad range of short-term benefits, without any clear formula for making that determination.

Federal law allows many lawful immigrants to apply for public benefits if they have been in the country for at least five years. The new rule creates a “bait-and-switch” ― if immigrants use the public assistance to which they are legally entitled, they would jeopardize their chances of later renewing their visa or becoming permanent residents.

“Michigan is home to tens of thousands of legal immigrants who have every legal right to receive certain benefits to provide food, health care and shelter for their families,” said Nessel. “We cannot and must not allow this morally bankrupt administration to undermine the very fiber of a country that was built on providing a helping hand to those who came to our shores from other nations – and which sacred values are enshrined on our Statue of Liberty. We are better than this.”

“My grandparents came here to escape the ravages of war in Europe,” Nessel explained. “They were penniless, spoke no English and were without a formal education or marketable skills. Nevertheless, they were allowed safe passage into this nation and made a life here in Michigan. Two generations later, each of their dozen grandchildren became college graduates, including doctors, teachers, business owners, and several Ph.Ds. And yes, one of them even went on to become the top lawyer in a state of nearly 10 million people. 

“My grandparents are the story of America. If the Trump administration has its way, remarkable family histories like mine will cease to exist, and the very foundation of what it means to be an American will be destroyed.”

A coalition of 13 states, led by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, assert that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) violated federal immigration statutes, the Welfare Reform Act and the Administrative Procedure Act when it unlawfully expanded the definition of “public charge”.

Under long-standing law and policies, a public charge is an individual whose survival depends on a specific public benefit ― cash assistance ― or who is institutionalized for long-term care at government expense. This does not include temporary assistance, such as food or housing assistance or health care, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Immigration officers can deny new visas, visa renewals and lawful permanent residency under the public charge rule only if the applicant meets this concrete definition. If an individual already present in the United States becomes a public charge, they can be deported.

Under the new rule, a public charge now will include lawfully present individuals or families who will use a broad range of federal assistance for housing, food or health care at any time in the future, for as short as four months.

The new definition expands immigration officials’ ability to deny visas and permanent residency to any individual who they predict may use these types of assistance in the future. Permanent residents may also be labeled a public charge if they use government assistance and leave the country for less than a year.

In the lawsuit, the attorneys general write that the Trump Administration's rule "effects a radical overhaul of federal immigration law from a system that promotes economic mobility among immigrants to one that advantages immigrants with wealth."

The Department of Homeland Security concedes in the rule that it would deter legally present visa holders from using important assistance programs.

Many visa holders and applicants for permanent residency will refrain from seeking assistance for themselves or their families because it could make them ineligible to renew their legal immigration status or become a permanent resident, exposing them to deportation.

As a result, fewer families and children will receive services they need, including food, health care and housing. Many children will go without adequate meals, vaccines or shelter, and more families will suffer homelessness.

Hundreds of thousands of individuals will lose health care for themselves and their families. Many of these people will go to the emergency room for routine medical care, requiring states to cover the vastly more expensive medical costs.

Additionally, women will lose routine reproductive care services, resulting in more unintended pregnancies, more high-risk deliveries, and increased costs for newborns whose health is compromised by the lack of adequate pre-natal care.

The attorneys general assert that the rule violates the Immigration and Nationality Act by redefining “public charge” in a way unconnected to its original meaning and Congress’ intent.

The lawsuit asserts that the “bait-and-switch” the rule creates for immigrants who use benefits for which they are legally entitled contradicts Congress’ intent and violates the Welfare Reform Act.

The attorneys general also assert that DHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act in numerous ways, including by reversing a decades-old, consistent policy without reasoned analysis and offering an explanation for the rule that runs counter to the evidence before the agency.  

Today’s multistate lawsuit against DHS includes Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington.