The Offices of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore are now joined by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington in their lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the JCRC announced Oct. 3. The JCRC of Greater Washington is the public affairs and community relations arm of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, representing over 100 Jewish organizations and synagogues throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The JCRC focuses on government relations, Israel advocacy, inter-group relations, and social justice.
The complaint challenges the federal government’s newly adopted “public charge” rule; the JCRC is among other nonprofits, local municipalities and elected officials contending that the controversial regulatory change will create unlawful hurdles for immigrants to the U.S. to qualify for permanent legal resident status, and particularly disfavor poorer immigrants and immigrants of color.
In addition to the Offices of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore and the JCRC, as of Oct. 3 the other co-plaintiffs are the City of Gaithersburg, Maryland, Maryland State Senator Jeff Waldstriecher (D), Friends of Immigrants, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Tzedek DC. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District court in Maryland.
The “public charge” designation was originally implemented to protect taxpayers from shouldering the burden of care for destitute immigrants, the JCRC said in its Oct. 3 statement.
The new definition dramatically broadens the scope of the “public charge” definition, conflating those who are truly destitute and completely reliant on government assistance with millions of low-income workers who may currently or at some future point access specifically-targeted government aid programs, the JCRC said. The proposed regulation would label as “public charges” immigrants who, like millions of American citizens, are employed full time at low wage jobs and must rely on nutrition assistance, rental vouchers or medical aid for as little as four months.
“This harmful rule would bar hard working immigrants from holding green cards and ultimately becoming American citizens,” said JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber. “This goes against the values we hold dear as Jews and as Americans — compassion and fairness. Many in the Jewish community got our start in this great country as immigrants fleeing persecution and poverty, and we cannot take that opportunity away from others.”
The JCRC represents an array of local social service agencies whose resources will be strained if immigrants decline federal public support for fear of jeopardizing their legal status, the statement said. Without the federal assistance to which they are entitled, these lawful immigrants may rely more heavily upon the services offered by local and state level assistance programs and by non-profit agencies. Immigrants may also refrain from seeking out critically needed medical and health-related assistance, thereby compromising the well-being of the broader community.
“This discriminatory rule will hurt not only immigrants seeking permanent residence status, but their family members as well,” said JCRC Associate Director Guila Franklin Siegel. “It will force individuals to forgo temporary federal assistance to which they are entitled making them, their families and the community at large less healthy and less stable.”
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he was not aware of the lawsuit when the JCRC made its announcement.
Suzanne Sangree, senior public safety counsel and director of affirmative litigation for the City of Baltimore’s Department of Law, declined to comment for this story.