San Francisco and Santa Clara County argue ‘public charge’ rule should be blocked

Trump administration is trying to rewrite 140 years of precedent and end the promise of the American dream

City Attorney Dennis Herrera

SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 2, 2019) — San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams issued the following statements after attorneys for their offices argued in federal court today that the Trump administration’s new “public charge” rule is unlawful and should be blocked by a preliminary injunction:

“This rule would topple the American dream,” Herrera said. “This nation was built by immigrants who came here with little except a desire to work hard, contribute and make a better life. The Trump administration wants the American dream to be available only to the rich. This rule is not only illegal, it’s un-American. It’s bad for the economy, it’s bad for public health and it’s bad for our country.”

“The public charge rule files in the face of more than a century of precedent and is yet another unconscionable attack on immigrants from the Trump administration,” said Williams. “This unlawful rule puts families in an impossible position and undermines the well-being of our entire community. We will not stand by and allow the Trump administration to put health and safety at risk with this cruel rule that would force families to forgo vital public services.”

The City and County of San Francisco and County of Santa Clara jointly filed the first case to block the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new rule. They were joined today in arguing for a preliminary injunction by a coalition of states and a coalition of immigrant rights advocates led by the State of California and the National Immigration Law Center, respectively. Both coalitions have filed related cases.

“Today in court we are seeking to halt the Trump Administration’s unlawful public charge rule that is not only regressive but harmful to working families across our state,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. “In California, we believe in expanding access to the basic necessities that help our communities thrive. We refuse to allow this Administration to scare families into foregoing food, housing, and healthcare.”

“Trump designed this policy to target families of color, and that’s against the law,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Like family separation, the Muslim and refugee bans, the Census citizenship question, and the raids that separated Mississippi children from their parents on the first day of school, the public charge policy is about sending one message: if you’re not white and you’re not wealthy, you’re not welcome. We have a message of our own for the White House: we will fight you on every front, and we’re going to win the fight to protect immigrant families. We also have a message for immigrant families: the best thing you can do to fight back is to keep meeting your children’s needs. Keep taking them to the doctor. Keep getting them nutritious food. Keep a roof over their heads. Trump doesn’t get to decide who belongs in America. This is your home and you do belong here. We are committed to continuing this fight because the future of our democracy and the soul of our nation is at stake.”

Case Background

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new rule on “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” announced Aug. 12, 2019, would rewrite nearly 140 years of legal precedent. It radically expands the reasons someone can be deemed to be a “public charge,” and thus denied entry into the U.S. or adjustment of their immigration status, including receiving a green card.  For decades, “public charge” meant an individual who was “primarily dependent” on the government for survival.  The assessment of whether someone was a public charge was based on two kinds of public aid: long-term institutionalization or direct cash assistance. In other words, the term “public charge” meant someone who was housed in a publicly funded medical institution or dependent on a cash benefit, like Supplemental Security Income, which helps seniors, blind and disabled people who have little or no income. A public charge did not mean someone who merely receives some publicly funded, supplemental benefits.

The new rule, without authorization from Congress or the reasoned analysis required by the Administrative Procedure Act, unlawfully broadens the benefits considered to determine if someone is a public charge. It adds in health benefits like Medicaid and food stamps in an amount as low as 50 cents a day.   

By design, the rule coerces individuals to forgo or withdraw from critical benefits and care.  DHS itself projects that the rule will cause 2.5 percent of the noncitizens participating in the targeted programs to stop using them, but this projection grossly underestimates the number of people who will be harmed. It also doesn’t reflect the broader “chilling effect” the rule causes by spreading fear and misinformation.

For example, many people who live with noncitizens, unclear about the rule’s impact, will forgo benefits that aren’t even covered by the rule out of fear of the immigration consequences to themselves and their loved ones. Indeed, in response to earlier drafts of the rule, many people already have.  A recent Urban Institute study found that one in seven adults in immigrant families (13.7 percent) reported chilling effects from the proposed rule, in which the respondent or a family member did not participate in a government benefit program in 2018 for fear of risking future green card status. This chilling was observed in families with various mixes of immigration and citizenship statuses, including families where all foreign-born members were naturalized U.S. citizens.

The case is: City and County of San Francisco and County of Santa Clara v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, 4:19-cv-04717, filed Aug. 13, 2019. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website: or the Santa Clara County Counsel’s public charge website:

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