By: The Washington Post , Shayna Jacobs //December 20, 2019
By: The Washington Post , Shayna Jacobs //December 20, 2019//
NEW YORK – Organizations critical of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies filed a broad lawsuit Thursday challenging new restrictions for green-card seekers who may need government help to pay for food and health care.
The legal challenge amplifies similar litigation protesting the administration’s “public charge” policies. It calls the rules discriminatory, saying they create an unfair burden for undocumented people who are generally self-reliant but may be disqualified from obtaining a green card if they or their relatives have received public assistance.
Already, federal district courts in New York, California, Washington state, Illinois and Maryland have issued injunctions blocking the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing its new rules.
The suit filed Thursday, brought by attorneys from the Legal Aid Society, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups, names as plaintiffs Make the Road New York, African Services Committee and a division of Catholic Charities Community Services.
It seeks to block the State Department from moving forward with its public-charge rules, and specifically singles out Trump’s October decree – titled “Presidential Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry of Immigrants Who Will Financially Burden the United States Healthcare System” – requiring green-card applicants to have “approved” medical coverage or sufficient resources to pay for their medical costs out of pocket.
“It is the only lawsuit to date simultaneously challenging all three rules designed to prevent low-income intending immigrants of color from reunifying with their families and obtaining green cards: the two sets of public charge changes and the health proclamation,” said Susan Welber, a Legal Aid Society attorney.
“We seek to stop all three rules, in order to prevent the Trump administration from erecting an invisible, regulatory wall that would keep our clients from building a permanent life in the U.S. with their families.”
It remains unclear whether the State Department public-charge rules are already in effect, creating confusion for applicants and their advocates, they say.
The civil complaint filed in the Southern District of New York lists as defendants both the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Neither the White House nor the State Department offered immediate comment.
The Trump administration has tossed aside long-standing immigrant admission standards and a family-based immigration system by enacting rules meant to bypass Congress and ensure that only wealthy immigrants are granted entry to the United States, the complaint says.
“Showing utter disdain not only for these values, but for the statutes that codify them into law – and for the Constitution – the Defendants in this case have sought to render lawful immigration into this country a privilege for the wealthy and the white, imposing unlawful income requirements on people seeking family unity and the chance for a better life,” the complaint alleges. “If the Administration wishes to impose its boldly stated preferences for excluding people of color and admitting only the wealthy, however, it cannot do so by executive action.”
Among the suit’s five individual plaintiffs is a 32-year-old native of El Salvador who owns a flooring installation business and lives in a studio apartment in Queens, New York, with his wife, a naturalized citizen, and her adult daughter, he said in an interview.
He is identified only as Carl Doe in the complaint and spoke with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, with his counsel citing his fear of reprisal by the U.S. government.
The lawsuit says that he is likely to be considered a possible future “public charge,” defined as a person likely to become primarily reliant on public assistance under standards adopted by the State Department.
He will have to return to his home country to have a consular visit before being allowed to return to the United States with a valid permit. Under the new guidelines, he’s at risk of being stuck in El Salvador, his lawyers argue in court papers.
“Although he would not have been deemed likely to become a public charge in the past, he now faces the risk of being unable to return to the U.S. as a result of the Consular Rules, subjecting him and his family to indefinite separation,” according to the lawsuit.
He cannot afford the private health insurance that would qualify him for legal entry under the president’s proclamation, the attorneys say.
The plaintiff, who says he came to the United States illegally after two friends were killed in his hometown, is trying to build his business. He borrowed money to buy a van and supplies. His family depends on his income, which was $20,000 last year, plus some money his wife earns as a part-time babysitter.
“I’m going to lose everything I have worked for,” the man said, should he be barred from reentering the United States.
A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would lock up the Trump administration’s public-charge and health care requirements further into litigation and could make it easier – at least temporarily – for many applicants to obtain legal resident status.