Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson helped lead a coalition of 13 states filing suit Wednesday against the federal government’s new rule making it harder for legal immigrants to get green cards if they’ve used an array of public benefits, including Medicaid, subsidized housing and food stamps.

“The rule is un-American, anti-immigrant and unlawful. I intend to stop it,” Ferguson said in a statement.

The lawsuit, co-led by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and filed in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington, comes just two days after the Trump administration announced the controversial rule and a day after two California counties also filed suit.

The other states joining in the latest suit are Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island.

The rule is part of the Trump administration’s plan to reshape legal immigration by bringing in people with skills and excluding people likely to become a so-called “public charge.” Administration officials have argued it will encourage self-sufficiency and protect taxpayer money.

“Longstanding federal law has required foreign nationals to rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations in their communities to succeed,” said Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli in a statement Wednesday. “The public charge inadmissibility regulation lies squarely within existing law and we expect this rule to withstand any legal challenges.”


The 169-page complaint filed by the states acknowledges that immigration laws have allowed for a public charge test since the late 19th century. But it argues the rule expands the test so much as to render it unrecognizable — and therefore contrary to the intent of those laws.

“From colonial times to the present day,’“public charge’ was used consistently in American law to mean a pauper—that is, someone permanently and primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” says the complaint.

The current test determining whether someone is likely to become a public charge — balanced against other considerations like age and health — looks at whether an individual has received cash assistance or long-term institutionalization funded by the government. The rule announced Monday, and due to take effect in mid-October if not blocked by a court, would take into account benefits, such as Medicaid and food stamps, that are more common.

Roughly 150,000 non-citizen Washington residents receive at least one benefit considered in the new rule, which affects those seeking to come legally to the U.S. as well as legal immigrants applying to become permanent residents, according to a state-by-state analysis by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.

The rule would not directly affect undocumented immigrants, who already are ineligible for federal benefits, and makes some exceptions, such as for Medicaid benefits used by those under 21 and by pregnant women. Immigrants also would not be penalized for benefits used by family members.

The states’ complaint also charges that the rule constitutes a “bait and switch” by contradicting federal law that allows many immigrants here legally to apply for benefits. And the complaint argues the rule violates procedures for new laws by reversing a “decades-old, consistent policy without reasoned analysis.”


The result, according to the complaint, will be a drain on state resources as those fearful of using federal benefits turn to local alternatives — state-funded emergency rooms, for instance. Washington’s Medicaid agency projects that up to 140,000 families will forgo health insurance, according to the complaint. Franklin County, less than five miles from the federal court in Richland where the lawsuit is filed, will be particularly hard hit, the complaint adds. Half the county’s population is Hispanic and more than 15 percent are not citizens.

Public officials and immigration advocates say the rule would generate widespread confusion, causing many people to give up benefits that wouldn’t count against them. That already has been happening, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County and other health organizations.

“Once implemented, it will take years to undo the damage that this policy will have on immigrant families, including a pervasive fear in immigrant communities of government programs for which they are eligible,” said Rich Stolz, executive director  of the advocacy group OneAmerica. “We hope this legal challenge will stop it from ever being implemented.”