Baltimore sues Trump administration over immigrants' access to benefits

Suit names president, secretary of state

By CNN'S NICOLE GAOUETTE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
John Moore/Getty Images

Central American asylum seekers wait for buses to take them to their next destination on thier caravant north to the U.S.-Mexico border on April 23, 2018, in Hermosillo, Mexico.

(CNN) - The city of Baltimore announced on Wednesday that it is suing the Trump administration over a new State Department immigration policy the city says is discouraging residents from accessing benefits.

"The Trump Administration's changes to (a State Department manual) put a thumb on the scale in favor of barring immigrants from the country if they have used any of a host of federal, state or local programs -- making it much harder for immigrants to reunite with their families," the lawsuit reads.

The suit names President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the State Department as defendants, and it charges the administration with violating the Constitution's equal protection guarantees.

"The change was motivated by the Trump administration's well-known hostility towards certain immigrant groups -- most notable Hispanic, Asian and African communities -- and is a violation of the federal laws governing administrative agencies, including the Constitution's guarantee of Equal Protection," read a statement from the office of Baltimore Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh.

CNN has reached out to the State Department for comment on the suit.

The move, the city said, came in response to a State Department change to its definition of a "public charge," a term for a prospective immigrant who is likely to be "primarily dependent" on government benefits. According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, someone designated a public charge is inadmissible to the US and ineligible to become a legal permanent resident.

As CNN reported last spring, the Trump administration has considered including many additional benefits -- like the Children's Health Insurance Program and food stamps -- when deciding who might be a public charge, thus restricting legal immigrants' access to public benefits.

Baltimore's lawsuit notes that a similar change at the Department of Homeland Security expanding the public charge definition has yet to take effect, while a parallel State Department policy has already been put into place.

According to the suit, the State Department has expanded its definition of a public charge in the Foreign Affairs Manual to include a wider array of benefits, and the change has resulted in immigrant residents of Baltimore declining to accept "the public benefits Baltimore makes available to all of its residents."

"Baltimore's residents, immigrant and not, will be less healthy and less well-off as a consequence of Defendants' unlawful actions," the lawsuit says.

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