Illinois has joined a multistate legal challenge to President Donald Trump’s changes to so-called public charge rules that were announced earlier this week.
Elected officials and community leaders gathered at a Thursday morning briefing to denounce the Trump administration’s move to deny visa renewals or permanent residency for immigrants who use or may use government assistance programs.
During the briefing, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced that he has joined attorneys general from 12 other states in a federal lawsuit opposing the plan. Those states include Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington.
“This public charge plan is not only illegal as we are challenging it in court. It’s un-American,” he said. “It’s consistent with what [President Trump] expressed early last year in that it is racist.”
On Monday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will weigh public assistance along with other factors such as education, household income and health to determine whether to grant legal status. The Trump administration says the changes promote self-sufficiency and immigrant success, while critics have charged that the plan will disproportionately hurt poor immigrants of color.
For the past 20 years, the federal government deemed immigrants a public charge if they were primarily dependent on cash assistance, income maintenance or government support for long-term institutionalization.
However, under the new rules, the definition of a public charge would be expanded to include someone who is "more likely than not" to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. If someone has two benefits, that is counted as two months. Under the plan, those benefits have been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The changes will take effect in mid-October. They don't apply to U.S. citizens, even if the U.S. citizen is related to an immigrant who is subject to them.
On Thursday, Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Grace Hou said she opposes the changes. Hou said she met with officials at the White House multiple times to describe how the changes would impact the state.
“Lives and dollars are at stake,” she said. “We oppose the rule because we understand the harmful effect it will have on the lives of our customers. It is designed to frighten eligible individuals who live in immigrant families and discourage them from using public benefits, which are funded, in part, by their own tax dollars.”
Hou said more than 140,000 individuals could disenroll from benefits out of fear those public services could jeopardize their legal status.
There is already a chilling effect, said Dr. Nahiris Bahamón, a pediatrician in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood and a member of the Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She said parents have been asking her if seeking medical services for their children could get them deported or harm their immigration status.
“We oppose the definition of what it means to be a public charge,” Bahamón said. “We already see the fear this policy instills on our patients.”
Bahamón said her colleagues have told her that the children they treat report not being able to sleep, eat or pay attention in school because they are afraid their parents will be deported.
Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said it is important for organizations and the community to work together during this “attack on the immigrant community.”
“Let this public charge rule be yet another reminder of the importance of coalition building, of bringing our friends and allies together,” Garcia said. “Ultimately, an attack on the rights of one community is an attack on all of us. The public charge rule at its core seeks to divide the immigrant community into good immigrants and bad immigrants. We reject that notion.”
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio