Baltimore is filing a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that President Trump’s penalization of legal immigrants who use public benefits has had a profoundly negative effect on local communities.
The Washington Post reports that Baltimore believes the administration’s expanded definition of ‘public charges’ is threatening the city’s immigrants and its efforts toward revival.
“The Trump Administration’s changes put a thumb on the scale in favor of barring immigrants from the country if they have used any of a host of federal, state or local programs—making it much harder for immigrants to reunite with their families,” the suit alleges.
Legal immigrants, says the Post, ‘have stopped using school programs, food subsidies, housing vouchers and health clinics for which they are eligible.’ The lawsuit alleges that immigrants’ abandonment of benefits suggests the city has abandoned them, too.
By refusing subsidized healthcare and programs meant to cover the costs of child-rearing, Baltimore fears it may incur greater long-term costs.
“They’re giving up government-supported healthcare, they’re giving up free school lunches, they’re giving up food stamps, they’re not applying for housing,” City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said. “It’s a noncash public benefit that people are abandoning so they don’t lose the opportunity for themselves or their family to get a visa.”
The Post notes that the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, challenges an amendment to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual. The change took place in January and instructs agency employees considering visa applications to check whether legal immigrants have used public benefits or if they’re likely to do so in the future.
Previous versions of the government’s “public charge” policy—which the Post explains ‘denies entry to people who are likely to become a charge on the government—excluded healthcare programs and food subsidies.
The suit cites President Trump’s controversial remarks and contentious immigration policy, too, claiming the commander-in-chief’s animus toward immigrants is inspiring new interpretations of old regulations.
“The change was motivated by the Trump administration’s well-known hostility towards certain immigrant groups—most notable Hispanic, Asian and African communities—and is a violation of the federal laws governing administrative agencies, including the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal protection,” the suit says.
The Justice Department says the new rules aren’t much different from those followed by past administrations.
“Since the founding, those who immigrate to this country have generally been expected to be self-reliant,” department spokesman Steve Stafford said. “Baltimore’s problem is with the letter of our immigration laws, not with the Trump Administration’s policies.”
While Baltimore’s suit hesitates to draw a direct link between the State Department’s revised manual and its established decline in program enrolments, it does claim that the president’s words and actions have far-reaching consequences.
“The lack of clarity discourages immigrants from taking necessary public benefits, frustrating Baltimore’s programs, and, paradoxically, draining Baltimore’s budget as immigrants are forced off of more appropriate federal and state funds,” the suit says. “Baltimore is left to sort through the mess Defendants have made.”