A coalition of 17 attorneys general across the country, led by Washington state’s Bob Ferguson, have signed a letter asking the Trump administration to delay the new public charge rule for immigrants while the coronavirus outbreak is ongoing.
The public charge rule, which went into effect February 24, establishes the criteria for who can get green cards based on whether they use or are expected to use government benefits, such as food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing. The controversial rule was embroiled in a legal battle that ascended through the court system, ending with a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in January that cleared the way for the policy change to begin.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said, “The public charge rule takes into account the totality of circumstances and no one aspect of an individual’s situation would deem them ineligible for change in status. Nowhere in the rule does it say an immigrant will be denied a change in status if they seek medical care.”
Ferguson is co-leading the multistate coalition challenging the rule. The letter, which was sent to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, the DHS second-in-command, was signed by attorneys general across the country, including from California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Washington, DC. A second letter is from dozens of local lawmakers, mayors and a coroner in Washington state, which has been extremely hard hit.
Ferguson’s letter blasts the administration as discouraging people from accessing health care they are entitled to in the midst of a public health crisis.
“DHS received warnings of the potentially devastating effects of the Rule if its implementation were to coincide with the outbreak of a highly communicable disease — a scenario exactly like the one confronting our communities with the COVID-19 public health emergency,” the letter says. “Your agency completely failed to consider such legitimate concerns.”
“DHS openly concedes the Rule could lead to ‘increased prevalence of communicable diseases,’ disenrollment from public programs, and increased use of emergency rooms as a primary method of health care,” it says. “Washington State has already had ten deaths attributable to COVID-19. The State is doing everything in its power to limit the spread of the disease and prevent additional fatalities.”
Ferguson says states, cities, and counties are “undertaking similarly dramatic efforts to limit the spread of the disease and mitigate its harmful effects” and deterring immigrants from using medical benefits “undermines and frustrates our public health professionals’ efforts, putting our communities and residents at unnecessary risk.”
“You have authority to swiftly correct your agency’s inexcusable failure to consider the Public Charge Rule’s risks to public health and safety,” the letter concludes. “We urge that you immediately stay implementation of the Public Charge Rule pending successful containment of COVID-19 to assist our public health professionals and protect our communities.”