California and other states are suing the Trump administration over a new policy known as the “public charge” rule that makes it more difficult for low-income immigrants to obtain visas and green cards.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the lawsuit Friday in a federal court in Northern California less than a week after the Department of Homeland Security made the rule official and two months before it’s set to take effect. Maine, Pennsylvania, Oregon and the District of Columbia are also part of the lawsuit.
Homeland Security’s new policy expands the government’s definition of what qualifies a visa or green card-seeker as a “public charge,” or someone who is likely to be dependent on government assistance. Immigrants deemed a public charge by the government are ineligible for visas and legal residency status.
The new definition for “public charge” was expanded to include non-cash government services such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Becerra said in a statement the new rule was “simply unacceptable.”
“This cruel policy would force working parents and families across the nation to forgo basic necessities like food, housing and health care out of fear,” the attorney general said.
The lawsuit alleges that the new policy creates steep and unnecessary barriers for legal immigration and discourages immigrants from seeking access to health, housing and food programs for which they’re eligible.
The previous definition of “public charge” was much more narrow, targeting those who receive cash assistance from a smaller number of government programs or long-term government-funded institutionalization.
Federal officials say that the new rule will ensure that immigrants who come to and intend to stay in the U.S. are self-sufficient. Asylum-seekers and refugees are exempt from the policy.
Critics of the updated rule say the policy unfairly targets communities of color in the U.S.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine said was a form of punishment for immigrants.
“The Trump admin is moving to punish immigrants for their lawful use of nutrition, housing and medical assistance programs, forcing them to choose between basic services and jeopardizing their #immigration status,” Racine tweeted.
Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said the policy would send a message that only white and wealthy people are welcome into the U.S.
“This pernicious regulation would create a byzantine structure designed to send one message and one message only: ‘If you are not white and wealthy, you are no longer welcome in this country, the land of opportunity,’ ” Hincapié told reporters, according to the Washington Post.