City Attorney David Chiu

San Francisco and County of Santa Clara conclude ‘public charge’ lawsuit

Voluntary dismissal concludes years-long legal battle that successfully protected immigrant communities from xenophobic Trump immigration rule

SAN FRANCISCO (February 2, 2023) — San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu and Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams announced today they have voluntarily ended their lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s “public charge” rule now that the rule is defunct and cannot be resurrected. In 2019, San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara brought the first lawsuit in the nation to block the Trump-era rule, which would have instituted a wealth test for immigrants entering the United States or going through the naturalization process and at the same time instilled fear in immigrant communities that dissuaded them from participating in civic life or public benefit programs.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

This week’s dismissal, in City and County of San Francisco and County of Santa Clara v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services et al., marks the successful conclusion of a four-year legal battle through which San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara blocked the Trump Administration’s public charge rule.

Since San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara filed their lawsuit in 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor by blocking the rule from taking effect; the Biden Administration rescinded the rule when it came into office; the U.S. Supreme Court denied an Arizona-led coalition’s attempt to defend the rule; and, in separate but similar litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a Seventh Circuit decision blocking the rule from going into effect nationwide.

“We took this fight all the way to the Supreme Court, and I am thrilled to say we won,” said San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu. “Immigrant communities can rest assured that the public charge rule has been defeated in court and has been rescinded by the Biden Administration. No one needs to fear seeking the assistance and programs they need. In San Francisco, Santa Clara County, and all across California, we will continue to honor our legacy of welcoming immigrants from all backgrounds and fight any attempts to institute a wealth test for citizenship.”

“We were the first to stand up in court and say the Trump Administration’s public charge rule was not only deeply harmful to our immigrant communities, but also flatly unlawful. And we have been vindicated at every step,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams. “We will continue to dedicate our attention and resources to protecting residents from racist and xenophobic attacks. We are and will always be committed to advancing health, well-being, dignity, and equity in all our communities, including our immigrant communities. Government at every level must support and protect families, not marginalize and villainize them.”


Under the Trump Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2019 announced a rule on “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” that would have upended nearly 140 years of legal precedent. The Trump Administration sought to radically expand the grounds upon which a person could be deemed likely to become a “public charge,” and thus denied a green card or entry into the United States. By design, the rule would have coerced individuals to forgo or withdraw from critical public benefits and care.

San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara jointly filed the first case in the nation challenging the Trump-era rule. The Counties were later joined by several coalitions that also challenged the rule, including groups led by the States of California, Washington, and New York; Cook County, Ill.; Baltimore, Md.; the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; and Make the Road New York. In October 2019, San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara secured a preliminary injunction that blocked the Trump Administration from implementing its rule. Courts across the country—including the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth, Seventh, and Second Circuits—have unanimously agreed that the Trump-era rule was unlawful and prohibited it from being implemented.

The Supreme Court was asked on three separate occasions to reconsider these legal victories, and each time the Court left them in place. The Trump Administration sought review of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in the U.S. Supreme Court, but in March 2021 the Biden Administration’s Justice Department dropped the case and announced the administration would not implement Trump’s rule. The Supreme Court then considered whether a coalition of states led by Arizona should have been allowed to intervene to defend the Trump-era rule after President Biden was inaugurated. But in June 2022, San Francisco, the County of Santa Clara, and the States led by California and Washington persuaded the Supreme Court to dismiss its writ of certiorari as improvidently granted, which again left the Ninth Circuit’s decision undisturbed. Finally, in January 2023 the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Texas’ last-ditch effort to intervene and reverse the decision of a federal district court in Illinois that the Trump-era rule is unlawful and could not be implemented.

While San Francisco, the County of Santa Clara, and the other plaintiffs were prevailing in court, the Biden Administration deleted the Trump-era rule from the Code of Federal Regulations and adopted a new public charge rule that comports with federal immigration law and the Counties’ legal positions.

The case being voluntarily dismissed 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, No. 4:19-cv-04717.