Vermont, New York join lawsuit over new immigration restrictions

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MONTPELIER – Vermont, New York and Connecticut are suing the Trump administration over efforts to give the Department of Homeland Security more control over immigration and green card applications.

Under the expanded rule, officials have more parameters to label immigrants a “public charge,” denying them entry into the country and green card access. For over a century, DHS has considered a “public charge” to be an immigrant dependent on cash assistance or government-funded institutional care. Now, immigrants who have received public assistance would fall under that classification.

“It forces legal immigrants to choose between their legal status in this country and taking advantage of supplemental public benefits to which they’re entitled,” said Vermont Deputy Solicitor General Eleanor Spottswood. “These are things like Medicaid, food stamps and Section 8 housing assistance.”

The Trump administration claims the changes will “protect American taxpayers and preserve the social safety net.” Immigrants will be barred from entering the country if they’re deemed likely to become a public charge, and a White House statement says they’re enforcing a longstanding law. The Vermont Attorney General’s office, however, said expanding the definition of a “public charge” to include public benefits is “weaponizing” the policy.

“Traditionally, a public charge was someone who was so primarily dependent on government assistance that they could not support themselves,” Spottswood said. “What the new rule does is expand this idea of public charge to immigrants who really contribute to our economy, these are people who pay taxes.”

President Trump said in a statement that “to protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient.”

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan struck a different tone, saying “public benefits are a hand-up, not a handout. We are not going to penalize people who come to this country and need a helping hand.”

A representative for Migrant Justice, a Burlington nonprofit that advocates for migrant farmworkers, expressed concern that these measures are an attempt to mischaracterize immigrants.

“It’s just spreading misinformation about how we portray the migrant community as poor and taking benefits,” said Marita Canedo. “It’s pitting vulnerable migrant communities against the poor white class, which is also suffering.”

The expanded rule is slated to take effect on October 15.

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