Challenges to the Final Rule on Public Charge

Last Updated

August 28, 2019

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its final rule on public charge in the Federal Register on Aug. 14. For a description of the public charge rule and its likely impacts, see CLINIC’s summary and FAQs. Following the publication, several state and local governments, as well as nonprofit organizations, have filed suit in federal courts across the country seeking to prevent the administration’s implementation of the rule. Common arguments raised against the rule include that it is inconsistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), that it violates the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), and enforcement of the rule would impose significant burdens on state and local governments’ ability to administer public benefit programs. Below is a brief summary of each case.


State of Washington, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security

The State of Washington led 12 states in a lawsuit against the administration in the federal court for the Eastern District of Washington. The case was filed on Aug. 14. The states allege that the final rule’s expansion of the public charge definition, “an [immigrant] who receives one or more public benefits”, contradicts the original meaning under the INA, an immigrant who is likely to become “primarily dependent” on the government for subsistence. Additionally, the states allege that the administration’s expansion of the public charge exclusion test to apply to those seeking extension of stay and change of status is beyond statutory limitations. Furthermore, the plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the rule on grounds that it violates the Equal Protection Clause because the defendant’s actions to redefine public charge were driven by discriminatory purpose, leading to a disproportionately adverse impact on communities of color. The plaintiffs ask the court to declare the final rule unconstitutional and bar its enforcement.

The 12 additional plaintiffs are Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Read the complaint.

On Oct. 11, the court issued a nationwide preliminary injunction. The court reasoned that the plaintiff states demonstrated the chilling effect implementation would have on their residents — including individuals disenrolling from benefits for which they or their relatives are qualified for, and the long-term costs to the states.


State of New York, et al. v. DHS

Led by the state of New York, Connecticut, Vermont, along with the city of New York, challenged the final rule in the federal court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs sued on Aug. 20, alleging that the final rule departs from the ‘primarily dependent standard,’ thus arbitrarily and unlawfully contradicting the longstanding meaning of public charge. In addition, the complaint alleges that the expanded rule discriminates against individuals with disabilities and presumes that their disabilities will render them public charges. Further, the plaintiffs allege that the rule’s implementation would impose significant burden on their obligations to provide for the social and economic well-being of their residents, and inflict substantial administrative costs on their institutions.

Read the complaint.

This court also issued a nationwide preliminary injunction on Oct. 11. The court found that the new rule likely violates the APA because it exceeds DHS authority under the INA. The court further noted that the new rule violated the Rehabilitation Act because it denies access to benefits for individuals with disabilities. Read more.


Make the Road New York, et al. v. Cuccinelli, et al.

CLINIC, along with several New York and national-level nonprofit organizations, filed suit on Aug. 27 in the federal court for the Southern District of New York to challenge the Trump administration’s final rule on public charge. The complaint, which aims to invalidate the rule, alleges that the rule violates the APA in a number of ways — including, that it is “unlawfully retroactive and penalizes past conduct that was not part of the public charge analysis,” that it is vague and overly broad, resulting in arbitrary and inconsistent enforcement, and that it discriminates against people with disabilities. The organizations further argue that the rule will have irreparable harm on immigrants and their families. Specifically, they argue that the rule would force immigrants to go without benefits that are not part of the public charge analysis to avoid harming their immigration status. 

Read the complaint.

The court also issued a preliminary injunction on Oct. 11, temporarily blocking the rule from going into effect.


The federal court in the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction in the following cases: (1) State of California, et al. v. DHS; (2) City of San Francisco, et al. v. USCIS; and (3) La Clinica de la Raza, et al. v. Trump.

In a combined order issued on Oct.11, the court issued a preliminary injunction, which prohibits USCIS from applying the new rule to applicants in certain parts of the country, citing, among other reasons, that DHS failed to consider administrative and economic effects of the new rule. The court order is applicable in California, the District of Columbia, Maine, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.


State of California, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security

California, the District of Columbia, Maine, Oregon, and Pennsylvania joined in a complaint against the administration. The plaintiffs initiated the case in the federal court for the Northern District of California on Aug. 16, where they challenge the legality of the final rule and the administration’s authority to redefine public charge. In addition to alleging inconsistency with federal law, the plaintiffs argue that DHS lacks authority to make substantial changes to national immigration policy that impact immigrants’ access to healthcare and other congressionally authorized benefit programs. The plaintiffs add that operation of the final rule would have a chilling effect on the states’ ability to implement their respective public benefit programs efficiently by imposing additional administrative and fiscal burdens.

 Read the complaint.


City of San Francisco, et al. v. USCIS et al.

The city and county of San Francisco, joined by Santa Clara County, California, filed a lawsuit on Aug. 13 in the federal court for the Northern District of California, also seeking to block implementation of the rule. The plaintiffs allege that the rule’s definition of public charge contradicts the plain meaning of the term in the INA, thus undermining Congress’ intent to allow immigrant participation in certain public benefit programs. The parties also allege that the administration’s actions were arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion, in that they failed to comply with the basic requirements of the administrative rulemaking procedures set out in the APA. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the administration offers no reasonable explanation for disregarding the federal government’s longstanding rationale for excluding select public benefits — for example, noncash benefit programs — when making a public charge determination.

Read the complaint.


La Clinica de la Raza, et al. v. Trump, et al.

A group of non-profit organizations from across the country that provide a variety of services to immigrants, including health care, legal and social services, joined in a lawsuit to block the Trump administration from enforcing its final rule on public charge. The organizations sued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Aug. 16, raising allegations, including that the rule was motivated by discriminatory factors, disproportionately targeting immigrant communities of color, thus making it unconstitutional. The organizations further argue that implementation of the rule would reduce access to critical community programs that support families health, food security, and ability to maintain housing, resulting in severe harm to the health and welfare of communities across the country.

Read the complaint.