Category Archives: December 2019

Immigrant Rights Advocates in New York File First Federal Lawsuit to Jointly Block Three Interrelated “Public Charge” Rules

December 19, 2019

Juan Gastelum, National Immigration Law Center, (213) 375-3149, [email protected]
Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, (212) 614-6449, [email protected]
Alejandra Lopez, The Legal Aid Society, (917) 294-9348, [email protected]
Yatziri Tovar, Make the Road New York, (917) 771-2818, [email protected]

Immigrant Rights Advocates in New York File First Federal Lawsuit to Jointly Block Three Interrelated “Public Charge” Rules

Litigation represents broadest challenge to government’s attempt to redefine longstanding definition of “public charge”

NEW YORK — Today, immigrant rights advocates in New York filed Make the Road New York v. Pompeo, the first federal lawsuit seeking to jointly block three interrelated “public charge” rules promulgated by the Trump administration. These rules seek, independently and together, to wholly transform the United States’ longstanding family-based immigration system, which allows all immigrants to seek a new and better life in the United States regardless of their means, into a system that favors the wealthy and discriminates against people of color. These radical proposed changes violate the immigration statutes, and the Constitution.

The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by the National Immigration Law Center, the Legal Aid Society, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP on behalf of Make the Road New York (MRNY), African Services Committee (ASC), Central American Refugee Center New York (CARECEN-NY), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS), and five individual plaintiffs.

The lawsuit challenges the legality of the following three rules:

I. The Department of State (DOS) January 3, 2018, changes to the public charge provisions of its Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) governing consular processing, which led to a twelve-fold increase in visa denials, largely against nonwhite immigrants;

II. The DOS October 11, 2019, Interim Final Rule, which changes the public charge regulations that pertain at the point of consular processing and would require DOS to apply the same enjoined DHS “public charge” criteria to immigrants who must undergo consular processing before entering the country to unify with their parents, children, and spouses;

III. The “Presidential Proclamation Suspending the Entry of Immigrants Who Will Financially Burden the Health Care System,” issued on October 4, 2019, which would bar entry to any immigrant who cannot demonstrate the ability to obtain certain types of private health insurance within 30 days of arrival.

“The Trump administration aims to transform immigration in the U.S. from a system that prioritizes keeping families together to a privilege for the wealthy,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Ghita Schwarz. “Unsurprisingly, like so many other Trump policies, these immigration rules harm people of color the most. The courts should not allow the administration to circumvent numerous court injunctions, based on determinations that the public charge criteria are likely unlawful and unconstitutional, simply by applying that criteria via different agencies.”

“Public charge has meant people wholly unable to take care of themselves for over 100 years in the U.S., not members of working families who may use government benefits to supplement their income. We will not allow Trump’s xenophobic interpretation to proliferate across the nation,” Susan Welber, Staff Attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “We will challenge every new attempt to redefine public charge, and consequently, the very fabric of this country, and look forward to fighting in court on behalf of our clients and all low-income noncitizens and their families.”

“The Trump administration’s multiple attempts to restrict family-based immigration by executive mandate are an unlawful and discriminatory attack on diverse low-and moderate-income families of color,” Joanna E. Cuevas Ingram, Staff Attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “These actions dramatically alter longstanding immigration policy, and undermine the goals of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other health insurance programs established by Congress. We stand with our plaintiffs and their families and with immigrant communities across the country as we continue to fight against these dangerous, unlawful, and racially motivated attacks.”

“We wholeheartedly reject the administration’s shameless attempts to impose a racist wealth test on our immigration system,” said Javier H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York.  “We’ve seen in the first round of public charge litigation that the law is on our side on this issue, and we urge the courts to stop this latest attempt by the administration to deny status to immigrants based on a reckless and illegal attempt to redefine ‘public charge.’”

“The FAM Revisions, the DOS IFR, and the Health Insurance Proclamation are the latest bricks in Trump’s invisible wall that is cruelly separating immigrant families across the United States,” Elise de Castillo, Legal Director of CARECEN – NY. “The detrimental impact of all three policies is not only felt by those who are needlessly separated from their loved ones, but also by organizations such as ours, dedicated to serving and providing clear legal advice to immigrant families and communities, and the local communities across the country that are being denied the social and economic benefits new Americans would bring to them.”

“The U.S. immigration system is based on family unity. These new public charge rules tear families apart, preventing citizens from reuniting with parents and children,” CLINIC’s Executive Director Anna Gallagher said. “We are a nation founded on faith-based values. There is no place in this country for requiring a wealth test for families trying to be reunited.”

“The Trump Administration’s recent attempts to unlawfully undermine and restrict family-based immigration threatens serious harm to immigrant families who are trying to reunite with eligible relatives both living in the United States and abroad. African Services Committee represents some of the most vulnerable populations who will be devastated by the implementation of these illegitimate policies,” said Franco Torres, Supervising Attorney at African Services Committee. “African Services Committee will continue to challenge these arbitrary and capricious attempts to redefine public charge into a virtual wall that prevents lawful immigration and family unification.”


The State Department rules closely track the changes made to “public charge” determinations under the blocked Department of Homeland Security rule, redefining a public charge from those who are predominantly reliant on government aid for subsistence to include anyone who is likely to use any amount, at any time in the future — even long after becoming a U.S. citizen — of various cash and non-cash benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps, and federal housing subsidies. The rules challenged today apply to immigrants who must undergo consular processing, including immigrants who must temporarily leave the U.S. in order to obtain LPR status. Thus, though immigrants obtaining their green card from within the U.S. are not subjected to the DHS rule because it is enjoined, intending immigrants seeking immigrant visas through consular processing are threatened by nearly identical provisions via the State Department rule. The lawsuit states that denials of admissions and permanent status on public charge grounds rose dramatically — by twelve-fold following the change — denials of immigrants from some countries rose from single digits in 2016 to thousands in 2019. According to one study, 81 percent of the world’s population would fail to satisfy the wealth test that is a factor in the public charge determination under the State Department’s proposed Interim Final Rule (IFR).

The lawsuit also challenges a presidential proclamation that bars entry to immigrants who cannot demonstrate an ability to obtain private health insurance within 30 days of arrival or financial resources to pay for foreseeable medical costs. Attorneys say this, too, is a wealth test for immigrants, and note that the proclamation provides no support for assertions that immigrants are more burdensome to healthcare resources than U.S. citizens.

The changes to State Department public charge criteria and the healthcare proclamation are racially discriminatory, the lawsuit says — driven by racial animus, and having a disparate impact on nonwhite immigrants. The complaint references Trump’s longstanding hostility to non-white immigrants from what he has referred to as “shithole countries.” It further describes how the challenged changes originated in a policy memo by the Center for Immigration Studies, “a far-right group founded by white supremacist John Tanton and dedicated to immigration restrictionism.” The architect of Trump’s immigration policies, White House Advisor Stephen Miller, is similarly associated with white nationalist groups. The revised “public charge” criteria include vague evaluations of English proficiency, and lawyers say that the new criteria and the health insurance requirement disproportionately impact immigrants with disabilities and those from countries with low incomes and largely non-white populations.

The complaint filed today is available at Information about the lawsuit is available at

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Spending Compromise Hurts Immigrant Communities

December 17, 2019

Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375

Spending Compromise Hurts Immigrant Communities

WASHINGTON, DC — Ahead of the vote in the House of Representatives on a governmentwide spending bill, Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“The final U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill will ultimately allow this administration to continue to inflict widespread harm on immigrant communities and flagrantly abuse its power right under Congress’s nose. We applaud the work of our Defund Hate coalition partners and members of Congress who fought to ensure that the bill did not concede to more of President Trump’s wish list.

“Unfortunately, because the bill gives the administration continued permission to transfer funds however it chooses, this makes any attempts to set limits on the number of people in detention and the amount of funds spent on a border wall meaningless. While the bill tries to mitigate some of this harm by including important oversight provisions, it ultimately does shamefully little to outweigh the dangers of Congress writing a blank check to DHS.

“The fact that House Democrats are poised to pass articles of impeachment based partially on this president’s abuse of authority makes it even harder to accept that they would consider a DHS spending bill that they know will invite more abuse of authority.

“Congress is meant to serve as a check on government spending — to ensure that the executive and his cabinet don’t misuse funds on pet projects or an agenda that is out of sync with our values. But this deal weakens our system of separate and coequal branches of government and opens up the country’s bank account so that Trump can abuse taxpayer dollars however he likes in order to fulfill his racist agenda — which includes a wasteful and xenophobic border wall and locking up immigrants in horrific detention conditions that have resulted in record numbers of deaths.

“This deal tacitly signals that Congress has conceded to the wall and to locking up record numbers of immigrants. Anyone committed to ending this administration’s abusive policies and practices must vote no on this bill.”


New Jersey To Join Growing Number of States Extending Access to Driver’s Licenses for All Residents

December 16, 2019

Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375

New Jersey to Join Growing Number of States Extending Access to Driver’s Licenses for All Residents

New Jersey is the 15th state to pass legislation extending access to driver’s licenses to all residents, regardless of immigration status

TRENTON, NJ — The New Jersey State Legislature voted today to pass critical legislation that expands access to driver’s licenses to all residents who are otherwise eligible, regardless of immigration status. Once the governor signs the legislation into law, it is estimated that 500,000 more New Jersey residents will now be newly eligible to drive with a license.

This major policy victory for immigrant families in New Jersey comes the same week that New York’s Green Light Law goes into effect, expanding access to driver’s licenses in that state regardless of citizenship or immigration status, and just a few months after Oregon passed similar legislation. New Jersey is the 15th state to pass licenses-for-all legislation. With the bill’s passage, most immigrants in the United States will now live in a state that issues licenses to all, regardless of immigration status

“This victory is life-changing for hundreds of thousands of immigrant families throughout the state of New Jersey who will now have the opportunity to live more freely and fully in their communities,” said Jackie Vimo, NILC economic justice policy analyst. “Access to driver’s licenses has long been a core ask from immigrant communities. For everyday working families, a driver’s license is more than just about any other document — it means they are able to drive to work, take their kids to school, visit the doctor, go to church, all without the added fear that a broken tail light might lead to deportation. Today’s win is another milestone in a growing movement to advance policies that allow immigrants to live more fully in their communities throughout New Jersey and across the country.”

“I am in awe of the power of immigrant communities here in New Jersey. We launched the Let’s Drive New Jersey campaign in January 2018, building on the progress and infrastructure we had built during the years before. It has been a long fight to achieve this victory,” said Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.  “We couldn’t have done this without the support of our partners and advocates across the country. Every time one state wins, another state gets closer and closer — and that’s really what these fights are about. I’m proud that New Jersey will be joining the other 14 states across the country that have passed this groundbreaking legislation, and I’m excited for what this means for our fight going forward.”

The NILC Winning in the States initiative aims to tangibly improve the lives of immigrants in the communities where they live and to help change the national narrative around immigration. NILC is investing in building power in these communities to accelerate the progress being made. We are creating a structure for advocates across the country to share resources and support each other so that, together, we can ensure that every immigrant living in the United States can feel safe and supported in their community. Learn more:


Appeals Court Ruling Reckless, Advocates Warn

December 10, 2019

Hayley Burgess, NILC, 202-805-0375, [email protected]
Beverly Quintana, AAPCHO, 510-500-5944, [email protected]

Appeals Court Ruling Reckless, Advocates Warn

WASHINGTON, DC — A federal appeals court Monday lifted the second of four court orders blocking implementation of the Trump administration’s public charge regulations, which threaten the health, nutrition, and housing of millions of families. Yesterday’s order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit follows last week’s ruling by the Ninth Circuit lifting another injunction.

One nationwide injunction remains in place, keeping the rule blocked for now. The administration has asked the Second Circuit to lift that order, and it has asked the Seventh Circuit to lift the remaining, more limited injunction in place in that circuit, which would allow the administration to implement the regulations.

“Just this past October, courts across the country blocked this devastating regulation from harming families, and for good reason: it is both legally and morally bankrupt. As a lawyer, and as an immigrant, I am deeply disappointed,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Although this is a difficult day for the legal battle, the public charge regulation remains blocked and the fight to protect immigrant families is far from over. We will continue to fight — both in the courtroom and along with our communities — for dignity for all.”

“The public charge regulations are about telling immigrant families that if you’re not white and you’re not wealthy, you’re not welcome — that means it’s against the law,” Hincapié said. “We will continue to fight Trump’s effort to redefine who is considered worthy of being an American and what we look like as a nation. We won’t stop until we win and all families have the opportunity to live healthy lives and thrive.”

The public charge regulations were finalized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in August, despite receiving a record-breaking 266,000 public comments, the overwhelming majority of which opposed the proposed changes to the regulations. The regulations represent a drastic departure from how the public charge test was previously administered, and they were opposed by experts who predicted that they’d result in large-scale increases in poverty, hunger, and unmet health and housing needs.

Since then, the regulations have already done considerable harm. In addition to the first uptick in America’s child uninsured rate in more than a decade, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported last month that about half of community health centers reported people declining or cancelling coverage because of the public charge regulations. Anecdotal accounts nationwide suggest similar harm with respect to anti-hunger programs. Experts expect the fear resulting from the appellate rulings will deepen the chilling effect.

“By fueling fears, as families all over our country gather together for the holidays, this reckless order puts the food, medical care, and homes of millions at risk,” said Jeffrey Caballero, executive director of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) and a member of the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign steering committee. “The regulation itself directly affects only a small number of people, but the Trump administration is counting on fear to amplify the harm. Don’t let Trump win — fight fear with facts and make the best decision to protect your family. Then keep fighting, by making sure you’re counted in the 2020 census and, for the millions of U.S. citizens in immigrant families, by registering to vote and to turning out on election day.”