Washington state’s Bob Ferguson and 17 other state attorneys general are citing the coronavirus outbreak in urging the Trump administration to halt a change on immigration policy.

Ferguson and the others asked the administration Friday to stop implementing the new version of a rule that allows some immigrants to be denied green cards if they’re deemed likely to be dependent on the government, based on life circumstances such as having received public benefits, including Medicaid in certain cases.

The Washington attorney general sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Citizenship and Immigrant Services officials, arguing the new “public charge” rule is undermining efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 by deterring immigrants from using medical benefits or applying for them, according to the attorney general’s office.

Attorneys general from California,  Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia signed onto Ferguson’s letter.

“DHS’s implementation of the Public Charge Rule during this public health crisis is irresponsible and reckless,” Friday’s letter said, citing deaths in Washington.

More than 50 Washington state and local elected officials, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, signed another copy of the same letter.


A previous version of the public charge rule said some noncitizens could be denied permanent residency if found to be dependent on the government, based on certain cash public-assistance programs they had used, such as Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and adult Medicaid.

But the Trump administration has updated the rule in ways that could allow the United States to deny more people.

To determine whether people are or will be dependent on the government, immigration officers will apply a “totality of circumstances” test that can consider credit scores, an income threshold and an English proficiency standard, as well as age, health, education and skills. They also can consider some noncash public-assistance programs, such as food stamps and Section 8 housing vouchers.

Disaster relief, emergency medical assistance and Medicaid for minors and pregnant women aren’t among the programs that can be considered under the new public charge rule, according to the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

However, “myths and misunderstandings about this rule have already caused immigrants to unnecessarily dis-enroll from basic needs programs,” according to a recent statement by the Seattle office.

Several states, including Washington, have sued the Trump administration over the new rule. But the Supreme Court allowed the rule to take effect Feb. 24 while the lawsuits proceed.


The city of Seattle is sponsoring workshops to educate immigrants and others about the changes, and advocates say immigrants shouldn’t immediately dis-enroll from public-assistance programs that they rely on without advice about the complex issue.

During the notice-and-comment period for the updated rule, “DHS received warnings” about how the changes could spell danger during an illness outbreak, Ferguson’s letter said.

“You have authority to swiftly correct your agency’s failure,” the letter said. “We urge that you immediately stay implementation of the Public Charge Rule pending successful containment of COVID-19.”

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