Disability rights groups join challenge to 'public charge' rule

Disability rights groups join challenge to 'public charge' rule
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A coalition of 17 disability advocacy and civil rights groups filed a brief in support of a lawsuit filed by 21 states against the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, which would expand the forms of public aid that could disqualify immigrants from receiving green cards.

In the amicus brief filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of Washington, the groups, which include the Center for Public Representation (CPR), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and the American Association of People with Disabilities, argue the rule will restrict disabled people from becoming citizens.

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The rule, announced in mid-August, is scheduled to take effect Oct. 15. It would add programs including food stamps and Medicaid to those the government can cite to claim an immigrant is likely to become a “public charge” and deny them a green card.

“In the new test, they have really taken these multiple factors in a way that per se excludes people with disabilities,” Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy at the CPR, told The Hill.

For example, she said, while the public-charge rule has historically factored in health, “now they’ve basically taken this health factor and defined it as disability,” she said.

Under the rule’s expansion, she said, a health condition requiring home- and community-based services covered by Medicaid would be flagged as a “heavily-weighted negative factor,” even for people with private insurance, Barkoff said.

Under the new rule, she added, “the fact that someone has a disability under the same factual circumstances triply counts against them.”

The CPR argues in the brief that the expanded rule is a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the nation’s first disability-related civil rights law. Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability within programs receiving federal financial assistance.

“If you look at the history of the public charge rule there is a very long, dark history of discriminating against immigrants with disabilities,” Barkoff said, citing early 20th century laws that “literally ... said we will keep out quote-unquote 'defective people.' ”

The expansion, she added, would be “completely contrary to congressional intent in immigration law and in the series of disability rights law passed over the last 30 years.”

“Congress has explicitly recognized the importance of Medicaid in enabling people with disabilities to be productive, contributing members of society,” Claudia Center, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a separate statement.

“Studies show that access to Medicaid increases employment for people with disabilities. That is the opposite of a public charge,” she added.

Rebecca Cokley, director of the Center for American Progress’s Disability Justice Initiative, told The Hill that access to Medicaid and the services that come with it "are lifesavers for people with disabilities and their families.

"The public charge rule punishes immigrants and their family members by making them choose between their healthcare and their immigration status," she added. "This is yet another deliberate attack on two communities that have been under assault since day one of this administration."

Mia Ives-Rublee, an activist who founded the Women's March on Washington's Disability Caucus and supervised efforts to make the event fully accessible, said the move would increase the likelihood of a public health crisis.

"Disabled people are some of the highest users of public assistance due to how expensive it is to live in the United States with a disability or chronic medical condition (known as the disability tax)," she told The Hill.

"This new rule will make it less likely for disabled immigrants and their families to seek services or get medical help, making them even more vulnerable and creating a higher likelihood of a public health crisis. The public charge rule is an antiquated policy based on eugenics and should be left in the past," she added. 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told The Hill it has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

Updated at 1:12 p.m.