#PNN_Sacramento Capitol Building in California

Santa Clara and San Francisco counties have filed a joint lawsuit against the Trump administration to invalidate a new rule that allows the federal government to deny entry or green cards to legal immigrants for using certain assistance programs, like Medicaid or food stamps. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new rule on “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” announced Aug. 12 and set to take effect Oct. 15, broadens the reasons someone can be denied admission to the country or access to a green card if already here lawfully. The rule would make using certain government benefits like Medicaid, federal housing assistance or food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) grounds to deny someone legal residency based on the flawed notion that a lawful immigrant availing themselves of this assistance would be a “public charge,” now defined as the mere use of these forms of government support over a three-year period.

“The Trump administration’s new rule is an unlawful, foolish attack on immigrant communities,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams. “It will hurt all members of our communities by reducing access to critical health and safety-net services that create healthier communities for all of our residents. This latest effort by the Trump administration to target immigrants, including those who are lawfully seeking visas and green cards, is abhorrent, and we will do everything in our power to protect our residents’ ability to access the critical services and benefits we provide. We also reaffirm that Santa Clara and San Francisco counties remain committed to serving all our residents.”

California Medical Association (CMA) President David H. Aizuss, MD, issued the following statement in response to the Trump administration’s new public charge rule that targets immigrant families:

"This new rule hurts our most vulnerable residents and will be a major setback for public health in California and the nation as a whole. This is another effort by the administration in Washington to target immigrant families – including those who are here legally – for political gain. CMA will aggressively challenge any efforts to take healthcare away from California residents and will continue to work with state leaders to stand up to misguided public policies that will harm California families.”

In California, it is estimated that more than a third of noncitizens (1.8 million people) use benefits classified under the new DHS rule, slightly higher than the national average, according to the Migration Policy Institute. One in five Monterey County residents are noncitizens, the highest of all California counties, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. About one-third of Monterey County residents use Medi-Cal in some form annually, and $75 million in CalFresh benefits come to the region, according to the county Department of Social Services. The Department of Homeland Security itself projects that the rule will cause 2.5% of the noncitizens participating in those programs to stop using them. 

“This illegal rule is just another attempt to vilify immigrants,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement announcing the suit. “It makes it easier to unfairly target hard-working, lawful immigrants while sowing fear and confusion in our communities.”

A recent Urban Institute study found that one in seven adults in immigrant families (13.7%) reported “chilling effects” from the proposed rule, in which the respondent or a family member did not participate in a government benefit program in 2018 for fear of risking future green card status. 

The price for this policy change, however, will be paid by society as a whole:

  • Reduced access to healthcare services will increase the risk of communicable diseases and other public health threats, like the Zika virus, measles and tuberculosis.

  • Taxpayer-funded healthcare costs will rise as people forgo preventative care and then wind up in the emergency room with more serious medical conditions. In Santa Clara and San Francisco, public healthcare costs are projected to increase by millions of dollars a year.

  • Food stamp assistance helps fuel local economies, with the money flowing through shops and grocery stores to their suppliers, owners and employees. Santa Clara and San Francisco’s economies could lose millions a year from people forfeiting food assistance.

The case is: City and County of San Francisco and County of Santa Clara v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, 3:19-cv-04717, filed Aug. 13, 2019. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website: www.sfcityattorney.org or the Santa Clara County Counsel’s public charge website: www.sccgov.org/publiccharge.


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