AUGUSTA — Maine is joining a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s plan to make it more difficult for immigrants who rely on public assistance such as Medicaid and food stamps to gain permanent legal residency.

The lawsuit was filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in federal court in Northern California just days after the administration published the new “public charge” rule, which could make it harder for many immigrants to get a green card giving them legal status in the United States, The Associated Press reported.

The rule would count more types of public benefits in considering whether immigrants seeking permanent residency and a path to U.S. citizenship are more than 50 percent dependent on government support. Currently, only government cash benefits are counted, but the new rule would also consider programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Aaron Frey Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

The new rule will not be applied to those with official refugee status or to those seeking political asylum in the U.S.

But Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said the rule is discriminatory, usurps congressional power and infringes on states’ rights.

“This rule not only violates the U.S. Constitution, it interferes with Maine’s ability to protect its residents,” Frey said in a prepared statement.

In addition to Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia have joined the California suit so far.

Among other things, the suit charges that the new rule “targets working immigrants and their families by creating unnecessary new barriers to lawful admission to the United States. The rule discourages hardworking eligible immigrants and their families from accessing critical health, nutrition, and housing programs that supplement their modest wages and help them make ends meet. The rule creates such a strict standard that, if it were applied to citizens across the country, a substantial portion would be considered likely to be a ‘public charge.’”

A public charge test has been applied to immigrants for decades. However, the test was tightly focused on whether an applicant was likely to rely on a limited set of public benefits, including cash benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, a Medicaid program that pays for long-term care and Supplemental Security Income.

In its new rule, the Trump administration would add more programs to the test, including Medicaid beyond long-term care for adults who are not pregnant, federal housing assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said at a White House briefing that his agency wants to bring precision to an existing law that has lacked clear definition, The Washington Post reported.

Lawsuits over the new rule, which has been the subject of a recent public comment period and was published in the federal register Monday, were largely expected.

Frey, a Democrat, said the new rule from Trump, a Republican who has made anti-immigration rhetoric a central theme in his reelection campaign, does more harm than good.

“It harms public health and our workforce by discouraging individuals who are legally present and working in our communities from accessing benefits which assist them in obtaining health care, housing and food,” Frey said. “Nobody benefits from this.”

“This cruel policy would force working parents and families across the nation to forgo basic necessities like food, housing and healthcare out of fear. That is simply unacceptable,” Becerra, California’s attorney general, said in a statement.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom also criticized the federal policy change in a statement:

“This latest move by the federal administration to demonize immigrants is personal for us, in a state where half of our children have at least one immigrant parent. This new rule, designed to create fear in immigrant families, is cruel and threatens our public health. That is not who we are in California, and not who we are as Americans.”

On Tuesday, advocates for immigrants and the poor in Maine warned that the rule was creating fear and confusion for many immigrants seeking permanent status in the U.S., but said that the rule could not be made retroactive and it would not be applied to refugees and asylum seekers.

The rule also was prompting some immigrants to forgo public benefits for food and medicine for their U.S.-born children over fears doing so would disqualify them from becoming permanent residents, a key step in the path to U.S. citizenship.

 

 


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