California and three other states on Friday filed the latest court challenge to new Trump administration rules blocking green cards for many immigrants who use public assistance including Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.
Nearly half of Americans would be considered a burden if the same standards were applied to U.S. citizens, said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
"This Trump rule weaponizes nutrition, health care and housing," Becerra said, by potentially blocking legal immigrants from becoming citizens "if your child participates in something as basic as your neighborhood school lunch or nutrition program."
The lawsuit he filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco follows others this week including those by Washington and 12 other states and by two California counties. Joining California are Maine, Oregon and Pennsylvania, as well as the District of Columbia.
Thirteen immigrant advocacy and legal groups led by La Clínica de la Raza filed a separate lawsuit Friday in the same court, arguing the regulation was motivated by racial bias.
The lawsuits all contest one of Republican President Donald Trump's most aggressive moves to restrict legal immigration. A spokesman for the White House declined comment while U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not respond to a request for comment.
The new rules set to take effect in October would broaden a range of programs that can disqualify immigrants from legal status if they are deemed to be a burden to the United States — what's known as a "public charge."
Becerra, a Democrat, said working families across the country rely on similar safety net programs. The impact is particularly great in California, which has more than 10 million immigrants. Half of the state's children have an immigrant parent, he said.
His lawsuit argues that the rule creates unnecessary new obstacles for immigrants who want to legally live in the United States. It also discourages them from using health, nutrition, housing and other programs for fear it will erode their chances of being granted lawful status.
"The whole point is to create anxiety and create that chilling effect," California's Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, said at a news conference with Becerra, immigration advocates and services providers. "You already are seeing a decline in people that are getting supports that they're legally entitled to."
Newsom said Trump "has a particular problem with brown people — not even immigrants."
He later said he was "not going there" by following other Democrats who have called Trump a white supremacist, "but he says a lot of things that make a lot of people that do identify with that term very happy. The continued assault on the Hispanic community, it's not even any question; it's just self-evident."
Newsom pointed to the rule change as well as recent immigration raids in Mississippi and a mass shooting by a man who authorities believe targeted Mexicans at a Walmart store in the Texas border city of El Paso.
"Connect some dots," Newsom said. "Why is it even an open question, what's going on this country and what's going on with this administration, and what they're trying to do and who they're trying to blame."
Becerra's mother was born in Mexico, coming to the U.S. after marrying his father, and he said she likely would have been affected by the policy. However, the rules don't apply to U.S. citizens, even if the citizen is related to an immigrant who is affected.
Many immigrants are ineligible for public benefits because of their status, and an Associated Press analysis found low-income immigrants use Medicaid, food aid, cash assistance and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, at a lower rate than comparable low-income native-born adults.
Trump's attempts to thwart illegal immigration have drawn the most attention, but the latest announcement Monday affects people who entered the United States legally and are seeking permanent status.
"We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient," said Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services.