Press Release

Attorney General Ellison files lawsuit against ‘public charge’ rule

New rule ‘bait-and-switch’ means families and children will have less access to food, healthcare, and shelter, meaning more burden for all communities

August 15, 2019 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and 12 other attorneys general filed a lawsuit late yesterday against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over changes to the “public charge” rule that target lawfully-present immigrants and their families. Under the changes, if an immigrant who is legally in the country uses benefits to which he or she is legally entitled ― such as food assistance, healthcare, or  housing assistance ― even for a short time, the federal government may deny their legal status or prevent family reunification.

Federal law and practice for decades has allowed lawfully-present immigrants to apply for limited 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 and will remain legally entitled, they could jeopardize their chances of renewing their legal status, or becoming permanent residents, or reunifying close family members.

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

“Minnesotans want everyone to live with the same dignity and respect that they want for themselves,” Attorney General Ellison said. “We’re a welcoming people because we know we’re stronger together and see immigrants contributing to our communities every day. But once again, the President is trying to divide Minnesotans from each other, this time by pulling a bait-and-switch on our immigrant neighbors, friends, and co-workers. But it won’t hurt just them — it will be a burden on and hurt every one of us in the long run. I’m using the tools of my office to fight for all Minnesotans and our best future together.”

Lawsuit allegations

In the lawsuit filed late yesterday, Attorney General Ellison joined a coalition of 13 total states, led by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, in asserting that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) violated federal immigration statutes, the Welfare Reform Act and the Administrative Procedure Act when it unlawfully and radically expanded the definition of “public charge.”

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

The lawsuit asserts that the “bait-and-switch” that 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 overwhelming evidence before the agency. 

Radical redirection of federal immigration law

In the lawsuit, Attorney General Ellison and the other attorneys general argue that the Trump Administration's rule "effects a radical redirection of federal immigration law from a system that promotes economic mobility among immigrants to one that advantages immigrants with wealth."

Under long-standing law and policies, the public charge rule has focused on an individual whose survival depends upon 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 healthcare. Under this long-standing policy and practice, 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  use a broad range of federal assistance for housing, food or healthcare 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. This includes restrictive scrutiny on persons from large families, who do not earn 250 percent of the federal poverty rate, who are not fluent in English, who are under 18 or over 65, and who have medical conditions.

Rule’s impacts on families, burden on public health and healthcare system

The Department of Homeland Security concedes in the rule that it would “deter legally present visa holders from using important assistance programs.” Some of these impacts, which will burden public health and the healthcare system, include:

Joining Attorney General Ellison in today’s multistate lawsuit are the attorneys general of Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington. A copy of the lawsuit is available on the website of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.