SILVER SPRING – The City of Gaithersburg, Baltimore City, Maryland Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) request to make it harder for immigrants to qualify for permanent legal residence if they receive any government assistance.
The federal government has proposed changes to the Public Charge Rule, broadening the definition of who is likely to be dependent permanently on the government to include those using housing vouchers, food supplements, Medicaid and other government programs.
According to the lawsuit filed Sept. 27, if immigrants receive 15% of the Federal Poverty Guideline, which is approximately $5 per day for 12 consecutive months, they would be considered a public charge.
“It’s a dramatic switch,” said Harvey Reiter of Stinson LLP, who co-authored the lawsuit.
He called the proposed change “extremely harsh” and said a full-time worker who earns a low wage and obtains government benefits would qualify as a public charge, under the proposal.
If immigrants are too fearful to obtain health or other benefits, it would harm the community as a whole, Reiter said.
The proposed changes to the Public Charge Rule would now include non-cash benefits, like food supplements and housing vouchers.
According to the lawsuit, the City of Gaithersburg is the fourth largest incorporated city in Maryland, with a population of nearly 70,000 foreign-born residents.
If members of this population opt to forgo participation in the federal programs they are entitled to, they “will increasingly rely on city-run health, nutritional, homelessness and social services, as well as on similar programs operated by nonprofit organizations that receive city funds,” the lawsuit stated.
“This will put a strain on and divert Gaithersburg’s resources from other priorities,” said Reiter.
Gaithersburg has “always considered itself a welcoming community” and has a 40% immigrant population, Reiter said.
“We need immigrants. They are more, not less, likely to benefit the community,” Reiter added.
Waldstreicher agreed, noting he joined the lawsuit to “stand up for the people I represent and against the Trump Administration’s demonization of immigrants.”
According to the lawsuit, 25% of his district is Latino, “making it the largest population of Latino residents in Montgomery County and the second largest population of Latino residents in the state.”
Also joining the lawsuit is the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), which represents more than 100 Jewish agencies, organizations and synagogues in the Washington, D.C. area, including the Jewish Social Service Agency, the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes and the Jewish Council for the Aging, which are listed in the lawsuit.
Gila Franklin Siegel, JCRC associate director, said that helping the immigrant population “is a huge priority for JCRC, flat out.” She added, “We feel that this is a core American value.”
She traced that priority to both Jewish history and religion.
“The American Jewish community benefited from the U.S. when it was a safe haven for us,” she said. “We see ourselves, and our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, in the faces of the people who come here.”
Also, she said, Judaism “commands us to always be welcoming to the stranger.”
JCRC is concerned that if the Public Charge Rule is toughened, immigrants “just are not going to avail themselves of the services,” which would then create “for us a public health problem.”
According to the lawsuit, an increase in the number of Maryland residents covered by health insurance “saw a drop of approximately $311 million in uncompensated care costs from 2013 to 2015. This decline would be reversed as individuals and families disenroll or forgo enrollment in health insurance benefits as a result of the Rule.”
Other plaintiffs in the 62-page suit include Friends of Immigrants, Immigrants Law Center of Minnesota, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Tzedek DC.
That suit requested that the courts rule that a change to the Public Charge Rule “is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance” with the meaning of the law.
It also noted that the rule change goes against the Equal Protection Clause.